Reviewed by: D.J. Williams
Starring: Laura Linney, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne | Directed by: Clint Eastwood | Produced by: Judie G. Hoyt, Clint Eastwood, Judie Hoyt, Robert Lorenz | Distributor: Warner Brothers
Note: The film is rated R for language (pretty strong and consistent, very much at home in inner-city Boston) and violence (not frequent, but troubling and moderately bloody when it occurs). Though not enough to be listed with the R rating, there is certainly some mature content here, dealing with implied sexual abuse and other mature themes. The movie demonstrates the effects of sin in peoples lives, and how they deal with those lasting effects. This isn’t a movie for kids or young teens, but honestly only a more mature audience is going to be interested in this one. Mature teens and adults should view with discretion, mainly considering the strong language.
Three childhood friends, separated by terrible tragedy, are reunited as adults when tragedy befalls them again. While the concept may sound familiar, it has never been fleshed out and executed quite like it is in “Mystic River”, a drama by actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood.
Eastwood and his stellar ensemble cast turn out a film that is both troubling and moving, a tragic picture of lives forever marred by pain and struggling to make it through a new challenge. The film follows the lives of Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon), and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), three childhood friends who grew up together in Boston, only to have the innocence of their childhood painfully shattered when a horrible crime befalls Dave. When next we see the three as adults, they have all gone their separate ways, remaining in only casual contact. Yet when Jimmy’s daughter is horribly murdered, the three are brought back together, Dave and his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Hardin) to console Jimmy and Sean as the officer in charge of the investigation.
As the search for the killer ensues, old demons are unleashed, fears are faced, and the three men are sent down an inescapable path that will change them all forever.
Despite a solid script and ample directing by Eastwood, the performances totally steal the show. The three leads are exceptionally strong, with Robbins giving his best performance since The Shawshank Redemption, Bacon his best since Apollo 13, and Penn his best period.
More than any other character we feel like we really get inside Jimmy’s mind seeing the simultaneous anger and love that drive his every move. His performance is certainly Oscar caliber. Penn and the others are also surrounded by a unusually strong and consistent supporting cast. Lawrence Fishburne (The Matrix trilogy) is terrific as Sean’s partner, a cop whose instincts are not restrained by personal connection to the crime.
Equally convincing are Hardin and Laura Linney, who plays Jimmy’s wife Annabeth. Hardin’s performance shines through in the moments when she questions her husband’s mental condition, and Linney is wonderful as Jimmy’s silent yet strong support. The cast is the best ensemble of the year, and probably the year’s strongest cast period.
Eastwood directs the cast with great skill, making a movie whose slow pacing adds to the character drama. He basically seems to have stepped back and let the acting dictate the film, while his direction, while noticeable, stays in the background. Likewise, the limited score is quite minimalist and leaves the emotion to the characters. Composed by Eastwood, the score does seem poorly executed, one of the film’s few drawbacks, but to spend money on an A-list composer for so little music wouldn’t make much sense either.
The cinematography is symbolic yet subtle, with the wash of blue tones and shadows adding to the somber mood of the film. All of the technique evident, however, seems to function only to highlight the tremendous performances of the actors and the well-written script.
Without giving too much away, the film does follow its tragic tone with consistency. Though some people at the screening I attended seemed to leave disappointed, I admired the movie for bucking Hollywood convention and following its story to its natural, logical end. Not to say that the film’s ending is a bust, but it lacks the clean, tidy resolution that is common in films of the type. Once again, this only highlights the characters, their flaws, their feelings, and their lives.
These characters are very real, their current plights are in some way or another results of their pasts, and the scars of sin, whether theirs or someone else’s, run deep in each one’s life. The challenge for these men is to deal with and overcome their pasts, and even their present, in order to find peace.
No, the film probably won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who don’t mind the slow pacing and tragic plot there is a real jewel of a movie here. Eastwood has put together a fantastic piece of work that, while not the year’s absolute best, certainly continues this fall’s streak of very good films. It may be a difficult swim, but this is one River certainly worth seeing.
Violence: Heavy | Profanity: Heavy | Sex/Nudity: Moderate
Reviewer D.J. Williams also writes for Two Guys Reviews
Year of Release—2003