Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) and his friends Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) grew up near Mystic River in the blue-collar East Buckingham area of Boston, playing ball in the streets. One day, after scrawling their names into freshly laid concrete on the footpath, Dave is taken away in a car by two men with police badges. It’s 25 years before the lives of the threesome are hurled together again, in the wake of the senseless murder of 19 year old Katie (Emmy Rossum), Jimmy’s daughter from his first marriage. Sean is now a detective and is assigned the case with his partner (Laurence Fishburne), which drags out some terrible demons, including Dave’s memories of those painful days of his youth. And a heartbroken Jimmy is determined to avenge his daughter’s killer before the cops find him.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A skilful combination of whodunit and character study, Mystic River is superbly adapted by Brian Helgeland and powerfully directed by Clint Eastwood, who seems to be at his filmmaking peak. Maybe it’s easier if he just directs, although many of us would have loved him to play a cameo even … the only one right for him would have been the role of the elderly shopkeeper played by Eli Wallach (Clint’s famous sparring partner, Tuco, from The Good The Bad And The Ugly, 1966).
The story builds beautifully from character and incident, and some may argue with Eastwood’s sense of pace (preferring more snap) but any time saved there would jeopardise the extremely intricate set of relationships and story possibilities. Each character is a point on this massive web that the novelist and the script writer have spun, and each scene gives us another small piece of the puzzle. Of course the whodunit aspect is critical, but Eastwood ensures that we care just as much about the people caught in this terrible episode. To his great credit, too, Eastwood handles the material with great subtlety, ensuring that only the right kind of sensationalism appears on screen – the kind that that we decode ourselves through the pain-racked faces and tear-filled eyes of his characters.
It’s a superb cast and they all stretch a bit to go places of great inner pain. But if this makes the film sound a heavy, desperate affair, it isn’t mean to. Indeed, Kevin Bacon’s decent and troubled detective helps to take us into the film and stay in it on an even keel while the characters around him start unravelling. Henry Bumstead’s unlaboured production design is so good it disappears, as does Tom Stern’s straight-forward but effective cinematography. (Stern shot Eastwood’s Blood Work.) I also like the score, which Eastwood put together with his frequent collaborator Lennie Niehaus. The film is saturated with details and layers that add great depth to the experience, showing how even the lowly murder mystery movie can be elevated to a work of lasting value.
Review by Louise Keller:
A superbly dense and dark thriller with psychological undertones, Mystic River is highly complex and tantalising. Director Clint Eastwood has masterfully crafted this tough-edged drama allowing plenty of space for the powerful and high-impact performances from its superb cast. Brian Helgeland’s economical script (from Dennis Lehane’s novel) conveys plenty of information effortlessly, setting up the scene in which three troubled men’s lives intersect once again and entice us into shadowy abysses of unspoken secrets.
A dark story of twisted lives that have been emotionally scarred, survival is often nothing but a lonely and hollow existence. Much of the emotional impact of the film comes from the undercurrent that exists between the characters. Sean Penn’s Jimmy is as tough as nails and bears no compunction to use any means at his disposal to effect justice. Like taking the law in his own hands by setting the Savage Brothers loose on the community, here is a man enraged and provoked. The most powerful of exchanges take place in incongruous places – such as the scene when Jimmy is sitting on the footpath with Sean, as a vortex of emotions hit hard as the truth is revealed. Tim Robbins’ troubled Dave is a poignant portrait of a broken man, who is intent to escape from his tortured existence. Robbins’ towering height somehow accentuates his vulnerability – he is the epitome of a lost soul. And Kevin Bacon’s tormented cop, who conceals his emptiness and inadequacies of communication by daily dealings with matter of fact issues, has his own cross to bear. You will never forget Marcia Gay Harden’s tragically haunting Celeste Boyce, who becomes eaten away by a potent dose of conscience and suspicion. Harden’s facial expressions and body language is superb, making us truly feel for her, while Laura Linney’s Annabeth is a strong match and staunch ally for Jimmy, supporting his every judgement.
They are intoxicating performances that touch us on every level. Wonderful production design and cinematography, and Eastwood’s touch extends to the music (with Lennie Niehaus), whose edgy score is a far cry from the jazzy scores of other Eastwood films. Enthralling from start to finish, Mystic River holds many secrets and leaves much to be digested.
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MYSTIC RIVER (MA)
CAST: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Chapman, Laura Linney, Adam Nelson, Emmy Rossum, Cameron Bowen
PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood, Judie Hoyt, Robert Lorenz
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCRIPT: Brian Helgeland (novel by Dennis Lehane)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Joel Cox
MUSIC: Clint Eastwood, Lennie Niehaus
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Henry Bumstead
RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 20, 2003