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Mystic River
2003 - R - 134 Mins.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producer: Clint Eastwood, Judie Hoyt, Robert Lorenz
Written By: Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden
Review by: David Trier
I’d pretty much given up on Mr. Eastwood after last year’s Blood Work. But if people thought he deserved an Oscar for Unforgiven, they better think up a more meaningful award for Mystic River.

Back when Jimmy, Dave and Sean were kids, Dave was abducted and sexually abused by some Church pedophiles (hey, it’s Massachusetts). Dave escaped, but some things are inescapable – like your memories. Now, in the present day, a new trauma has brought the three together. Jimmy (Sean Penn), an ex-con convenience store owner, learns that his teenaged daughter has been brutally murdered. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the detective assigned to the case, along with his unfortunately named partner, Whitey (Laurence Fisburne). And Dave (Tim Robbins) is a prime suspect. Coming home the night of the murder with someone else’s blood all over him, a busted hand and a big gash in his stomach doesn’t help. But then again, there’s a gun that can be tied to the victim’s boyfriend, Brendan (Thomas Guiry). So will the police be able to solve this crime or will a father demand his own justice? Either way, it’s amazing they don’t all kill each other with that annoying Bostonian accent.

But seriously, Mystic River is one of those films that’s going to stick around for a while. It’s directed and performed like it’s already a classic. Sean Penn is absolutely incredible and Tim Robbins gives the best performance of his career without a doubt. Kevin Bacon is subtle and convincing, while Laurence Fishburne defies the role of a black sidekick and makes a strong and essential detective. Marcia Gay Harden sells Dave’s freaked out wife well. And bravo to the young Thomas Guiry, who seals the deal on a huge film career with his genuine performance.

Whereas the film can’t really be described as fast-paced, there is virtually no filler. Each scene draws us closer to our conclusions, mislead as we may be. What makes Mystic River a true success is that the people are as interesting as the crime. Usually, one of these aspects is overlooked. Either an interesting crime happens in a world of idiots or a bunch of intriguing characters get caught up in something stupid. Instead, Mystic River succeeds in offering both a compelling murder mystery and a touching introspective on the emotional world of adult males.

As impressive as the performances and plot structure are, one has to observe the expert way in which Eastwood combines Tom Stern’s excellent cinematography with Eastwood’s own orchestrated music. Who knew? But the score dramatically highlights some of the more fluid and graceful shots in the film.

The ending fumbles the ball a bit, wrapping up some characters’ fate too quickly and unfairly acquitting others. The killer’s intentions are inadequately explained and some may leave the theater sadly confused after riding a high wave of brilliant filmmaking. Jimmy’s wife, while well played by Laura Linney, is underwritten and comes off as superfluous until she delivers a long and inexplicable monologue near the film’s close.

Interesting side note, Clint Eastwood may be a Republican, but he cast this incredible film with more of Hollywood’s giant liberals than I’ve ever seen in one place (anti-war protests notwithstanding).
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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