REVIEW – ‘Mystic River’

This 2003 drama is a compelling yet bleak film from director Clint Eastwood.

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: October 15, 2003
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Tom Stern
WRITER: Brian Helgenland
MUSIC: Clint Eastwood

Based on the 2001 novel by Dennis Lehane, “Mystic River” is a dark, compelling story about the loss of a loved one and the three men who are touched by a tragic moment from their childhoods. It is also marks one the best films to be directed by Clint Eastwood.

On an apparently normal day in Boston, three kids are playing hockey in the streets. After they decide to write their name in some newly laid cement, a police officer catches them in the act. The cop is with someone who appears to be a priest. They take one of the boys, Dave Boyle, and it is revealed that the two are actually child molesters.

After Dave escapes, the film fast forwards to the present. Dave, played by Tim Robbins, is a family man who is still haunted by that fateful day. Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon play Jimmy Markum and Sean Devine, respectfully. The two men were also the other kids with Dave when he was abducted.

Jimmy is a criminal gone straight due to his eldest daughter, Katie. Sean is a police officer who happens to be the one on the scene when a body is discovered. It turns out that the young woman is Katie. Now, Sean is trying to find the killer while Jimmy is also using some of his old buddies to do the same.

The film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and it deserved to have won. The movie works on every level. The story is brilliantly adapted by Brian Helgeland, Eastwood’s score is hauntingly beautiful and the performances are the best to come around in a long time.

Penn is particularly great as Jimmy. The audience believes his every move and he probably has the weightiest material of all the performers along with Robbins. The audience feels for this man who is now an honest guy who has just lost the one thing that mattered most to him. The reason the audience believes in this man is all because of Penn’s commitment to the part. While the film got cheated out of the Best Picture category, Penn deservedly won for Best Actor.

Another well-deserved Oscar went to Robbins for Best Supporting Actor. When he is on screen, it is not Robbins playing a part. All that is there is Dave. He is a traumatized man who isn’t always focused. While he’s been trying to move on with his life since the day he got into that car, he can’t help wondering if he ever really escaped. Robbins portrayal of Dave is just as real as Penn’s.

This has to be the best work from Eastwood since “Unforgiven”. There is not a single shot that feels out of place. Also, this is one of the rare times where Eastwood uses the camera to set the mood. For example, when Dave’s wife, played by Marcia Gay Harden, begins to hear her husband’s account of what happened when he was a kid, the camera is a little off-balance and it helps establish the dark and confused scene and enhances the performances.

The only thing that audiences should be warned about is that this is a very dark film. There is very little room for humor here. However, an audience prepared for the dark subject matter will find a film that deserves to be an instant classic. Penn and Robbins’ performances alone are worth seeing and it was good to see that the rest of the film followed suit.

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