Posts Tagged ‘Mystic River’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 4th March 2004:

It’s over ten years since Clint Eastwood’s long service and considerable skills both as an actor and director were justly rewarded by the Oscars awarded to Unforgiven. Clint has, of course, kept working as solidly as ever since then, but the honest truth is that (with the odd exception) the actual movies haven’t really been anything special.

However, this run of mediocre films has been broken in impressive style with Mystic River, a crime drama based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Set in Boston, it’s the story of trio of men, once childhood friends, who are brought together by violence and tragedy. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is a semi-reformed criminal and tough guy, a devoted family man. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a homicide detective, struggling after his wife has left him. And Dave (Tim Robbins) is a man left with permanent psychological scars after being kidnapped and abused as a child. When Jimmy’s teenaged daughter is murdered, Sean finds he and his partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) have been assigned to the case, while Dave’s wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) finds herself having terrible suspicions about just what her husband was doing on the night of the killing…

Yes, well, not a lot of laughs in this one (and a total absence of performing orang-utans too). But don’t let that put you off, as this is an utterly engrossing and thought-provoking film built with scarcely a dud performance anywhere in it. The plot is complex, with a lot of back-story, most of which emerges through the minutae of the police investigation – but it’s never confusing or contrived. The other main strand of the film concerns Penn coming to terms with the death of his daughter and the growing suspicions surrounding Robbins’ character. It’s more emotionally involving, but equally absorbing, and the two complement each other perfectly.

I’m always slightly wary of films which set out to make serious points and send messages to the audience, but Mystic River manages to do this subtly and calmly. It’s interesting that Clint Eastwood, an actor for many years synonymous with a certain kind of cinematic violence (and whose primary big-screen persona was basically that of Angel of Death) has chosen to make a film suffused with a tremendous dread of and hatred for violence of all kinds. Violence causes violence, the story suggests, resulting in people trapped in a cycle of anger and revenge out of which good can never come. It’s a grim moral, and this is an intense and often brooding film, but it’s also a compulsively watchable one.

Clint’s direction is appropriately unflashy for the most part, and he does sterling double-duty as composer of a low-key but very effective soundtrack. But he must surely take some of the credit for a welter of superb performances from virtually the entire principle cast. Robbins exudes a strange shambling menace as the emotionally damaged Dave, Marcia Gay Harden is outstanding as his wife (and if you ask me deserved to win the Oscar eventually picked up by Renee Zellweger), and Penn is never less than utterly convincing as Jimmy, a man virtually unhinged by grief and rage. Some of these performances are perhaps a little obvious and mannered, but no less praiseworthy for that.

Mystic River perhaps outstays its welcome a bit, and the slightly odd, ambiguous ending will not be to everyone’s taste. But it is a superb drama, tightly written and brilliantly performed, and thoroughly deserving of your attention. I think it bears comparison with the best of Clint Eastwood’s past work, and is also a major piece of evidence for those who would claim that his achievements as a director far surpass those of his acting career. Highly recommended.

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