Mystic River

Mystic River

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

For a low-carb whodunit in an unexciting Massachusetts small town, you would expect a cast of C-list character actors; instead, it's star studded. Is this the result of Clint's legendary charm, or does everybody who's anybody want to work with The Man?

He makes movies fast and recently they haven't been looking so good. Phrases such as "over the hill" kept creeping into critics' reviews. Mystic River is a good mile out in front of what you have grown to expect from an Eastwood film. There are performances here to cherish and a plot that only falls apart at the end. It's 40 minutes too long and yet unfleshed in certain areas, which sounds contradictory. What it needs is an editor with knives for eyes.

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The beginning is excellent, when three 11-year-old boys are caught writing their names in wet cement on a sidewalk by a man who appears to be a plain-clothed cop. He orders one of the kids into his car, saying he'll drive him home, but the kid disappears for four days, is held in the basement of a house in the country and sexually abused before escaping into the woods.

The story continues 25 years later. The friends don't see each other anymore. Jimmy (Sean Penn) went to jail for robbery when he was 21. Now he runs a convenience store. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a detective on the local force, whose wife has just walked out on him. Dave (Tim Robbins) never really recovered from his experiences in the basement and appears emotionally cauterised. He's married to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden). They have a boy of nine.

The men are brought together again after Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter is found shot dead in a park. Sean and his partner (Laurence Fishburne) investigate the killing. Jimmy calls up his criminal associates to find the perpetrator of the crime so that he can finish it personally. Dave has been behaving in an odd manner, since coming home at three in the morning on the night of the murder, with his hands cut and a knife wound across his stomach. A mugger attacked him, he told Celeste, and he's scared he might have killed the man.

The plot unfolds at its own pace. Things about these people emerge as the film progresses, which avoids, to some extent, a reliance on stereotypes. Half way through everything slows down, as Celeste flirts with hysteria and Jimmy's grief turns to rage. The interesting part - the investigation - is intermittent as the camera returns to Dave, who looks more and more like an habitué of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. What will be will be and it seems inevitable. Tension leaks into the river.

Penn is powerful; Bacon is sharp; Robbins is troubled; Fishburne is alert. Having them here is a privilege and a pleasure. If Brian Helgeland's script loses something in translation from Dennis Lehane's novel, these guys give it their best. Clint should feel proud.

Reviewed on: 16 Oct 2003
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Mystic River packshot
Murder mystery in Massachusetts resurrects memories of child sex abuse.
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Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Brian Helgeland based on the novel by Dennis Lehane

Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Emmy Rossum, Tom Guiry, Kevin Chapman, Adam Nelson, Spencer Treat Clark, Cameron Bowen, Eli Wallach

Year: 2003

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2003
SSFF 2011

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