Published Oct 01, 2003Clint Eastwood directed Mystic River and after some recent workmanlike films, to his credit he helms this one like he's possessed by the material. Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, and adapted by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), the story questions some very American notions of authority, vigilantism and the wounding legacy of violence on the male psyche. Eastwood has inhabited this terrain onscreen for years, and much like in Unforgiven, he proves himself to be the right man to transcend the limitations of a genre movie and turn it into something timeless and elegiac.
The story concerns a group of three friends: Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins), who grew up in the same Boston neighbourhood and who all carry the scars of a random act of brutality visited upon Dave when they were kids. As adults they've drifted into acquaintances that nod hello on the street and say they should get together for a beer, but never do. It's only when a horrific tragedy tears apart Jimmy's family that they find themselves speaking to each other again, only now Sean is a police detective, Dave is a suspect and Jimmy is prepared to exact justice by his own hand.
Mystic River is an acting decathlon Eastwood's camera is like a sponge soaking up all the pain, guilt and conflicted emotions of his cast, who are, down to the smallest supporting role, more than up to the task. What really blindsided me was that the two women's roles (played by Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden) manage to carry remarkable power in what is essentially an examination haunted male relationships. Linney, who stays in the wings for most of the film, delivers a devastating monologue in the film's final moments.
Compared to its overall impact, the minor faults with this film seem to dissolve (there are a few too many coincidences that resolve the story, and at times, Tim Robbins seems to play his character just this side of mentally retarded). But Mystic River is a rare achievement in mainstream American film. It eschews manipulation and easy payoffs in favour of complexity. When Penn cries for his lost daughter, the moment isn't an easy catharsis it's just the beginning of a long inner battle that will only end in bitter moral compromise. (Warner)