Clint Eastwood gives us a powerful, spellbinding film in his return to directing. Mystic River is a story enveloping three childhood friends separated and then reunited by tragedy. Starring Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, and Sean Penn, in what I believe to be his best performance to date, Mystic River is a moving drama.
Set in a blue-collar Boston neighborhood, Mystic River opens with three young boys playing street hockey, when they are approached by two men who claim to be policemen. They take one boy, Dave Boyle (Robbins), away and hold him captive while they rape him over 4 days. After his escape, Dave and the other boys are no longer friends and everyone goes on as if nothing ever happened. Cut to present day where we meet Danny Markum (Penn), an ex-con who is now the proprietor of a local shoppette. He now has a family and at its center is his lovely daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum: Nola, Passionada), who is secretly dating a neighborhood boy (Tom Guiry: Black Hawk Down) who for some unknown reason Danny loves to hate. Soon however, tragedy befalls this working class Irish Catholic neighborhood as Katie is found murdered. Leading the investigation is Det. Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon), sidekicked by his Black partner, ironically named Whitey Powers (Lawrence Fishburne). The two search for answers to the senseless murder and the suspicion teeters between the boyfriend and Boyle, who came home late the night of the murder cut and bloodied. He tells his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden: Pollock, Space Cowboys) that he was mugged, yet there are no reports in the morning paper, and he insists on not calling the police. Hrmmm…
The plot is gradual in its unfurling, which gives you time to absorb the forcefulness of the story and solve the crime. Although it stagnates at times during the 2 hr 23 minute running time, Mystic River delivers solid performances from the entire cast. Tim Robbins gives a truly convincing portrayal of the psychologically crippled Boyle who never completely recovered from his ordeal. Harden gives a strong performance as Boyle's emotionally fragile wife. You feel her fear, conflict, and distrust as you struggles with her suspicions about her husband's connection to the murder. The most extraordinary performance in this film has be that of Sean Penn. Penn, looking very much like Robert DeNiro, put his soul into his character as Markum. The most wrenching scene in the film has to be where Markum finds out that his daughter has been killed and it takes the strength of a half dozen cops to keep him from the scene…. a few people in the theater teared up. (I did not.)
There are a few problems with Mystic River, for one the running time and stagnation that I've already mentioned. Secondly, you have the irritating and ridiculous subplot of Kevin Bacon's estranged wife calling and not saying anything. It could have been left out and adds nothing to the story. Bacon also looks too young to the same age as the other two men. Then there is Annabeth Markum (Laura Linney: Congo, The Mothman Prophecies), whose character remained quiet and dependent the majority of the film, but then turns into Lady Macbeth in the last 10 minutes of the film, taking it on a strange tangent. The fact that the film doesn't actually resolve at the end is not something that I would list as a liability, as really none of the characters will truly live happily ever after with the knowledge of what happened.
Eastwood's requirement that scenes be limited to one or two takes is evident in the potent impressions from the cast. The scenes never seem arranged; solid work all around. Brian Helgeleand performs a fantastic screenplay based on Dennis Lehane's novel. Truly a superb work.
Notes: Eastwood and Penn are at the top of their game.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Mystic River mystifies.
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