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Mystic River (A Movie Review)


Starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapman, Adam Nelson, Emmy Rossum, Tom Giury, Cameron Bowen, Matty Blake, Andrew Blesser, Douglass Bowen Finn, Jonathan Togo, Cayden Boyd, Charlie Broderick, Ken Cheeseman, Jenny O'Hara, Eli Wallach and Spencer Treat Clark.

Screenplay by Brian Helgeland.

Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures. Rated R. 137 minutes.

It is kind of ironic that this film is being released on the same week as Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, Volume 1. Both films are feature length meditations on violence, but their points of view could not be more different. Kill Bill is a cartoonish (and pretty much storyless) celebration of sensational, mindless, debauched random carnage. Well, Clint Eastwood's latest film is sort of the anti-Kill Bill. In Mystic River, violence isn't glamorous or entertaining. It has dark and ugly undertones that can resonate in people's lives for years, even generations.

The story starts with a dark prelude which takes place over thirty years before the main action of the story. But what happens on that long ago day in many ways never leaves the minds of the main characters. Three boys are playing in street hockey in a lower-class Boston neighborhood. The boys are led by Jimmy, a confident and slightly bullying boy. Sean is a bit of a follower; he idolizes Jimmy and will do what he says. Dave is a quiet, kind of frightened boy who does have a tendency to reluctantly give in to peer pressure. When Jimmy gets the bright idea of writing his name in a wet cement square, he taunts his friends until they do it as well. A car drives up and the driver claims to be a policeman. He threatens the children that he will tell their parents what they are doing, eventually forcing Dave to come with him and a man in his car who appears to be a priest. The two men hold Dave hostage for several days, and while it is never told what exactly happened to the boy, the audience can pretty well figure it out.

Fast forward to the current day. The three boys have grown up and stayed in the same neighborhood, though they have long ago lost touch with each other, beyond perfunctory hellos on the street. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con who owns a local grocery shop, and still has many questionably lawful associates. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a Boston Homicide cop who is trying to leave behind his old neighborhood. Dave (Tim Robbins), as can be expected, is the most obviously effected. He seems jumpy and somewhat slow as he goes through life, as if he is always waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Their lives are thrown together when Jimmy's beloved 19-year-old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum), is found murdered. Sean and his partner (Laurence Fishburne) are assigned the case. Dave is a witness, having been one of the last people to see the victim alive. Soon, however, he becomes a suspect, because of a mysterious altercation he had on the night of the murder. Did he murder the girl, or did it have something to do with his long-ago incident? Even his wife (Marcia Gay Harden), who is every bit as anxious as her husband, has her doubts.

Sean follows the clues as Jimmy has some of his underworld connections do their own investigation. Leads and false steps swirl around and gain a locomotive force. Vengeance starts to replace truth as the most important force involved. By the time the film reaches its tragic conclusion, no one has come out unscathed.

The acting is without a doubt stellar by all involved. Sean Penn is just stunning. The scene when he finds out that his daughter may have been murdered is one of the most harrowing pieces of screen acting in years. Bacon is also terrific as a cop torn between loyalty for old friends and finding the truth. Robbins does a wonderful job of creating a character with a totally destroyed psyche, nervous and jumpy and haunted, but trying to be normal. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney play the spouses of Dave and Jimmy, both of whom are strangely appropriate for their own husbands. Harden is a nervous and unsure victim just like Dave, while Linney is a hardened and cynical survivor who will step over people who get in her way.

Eastwood's direction is stately, even slow sometimes, but it captures the Boston neighborhood, and the effects of crime with a continually building tension. Unlike the epic bloodshed of Kill Bill, Mystic River realizes that sometimes passions need to simmer to a boil instead of just exploding outwards on an audience.

In the end, the film shows, senseless violence begets more senseless violence. Three children lose their innocence one long ago day, and they never again regain their equilibrium. Victims are victims and survivors just barely survive, but no one gets out unhurt. (10/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © 2003 All rights reserved. Posted: October 26, 2003.

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