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OCTOBER 16, 2003
Eastwood and Cast Create Emotional Current in 'Mystic River'
By Jeremy Mathews

“Mystic River”
Warner Bros.
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Produced by Robert Lorenz, Judie G. Hoyt and Clint Eastwood
Starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney

Rated R

(out of four)

  Kevin Bacon plays a cop investigating the murder of his childhood friend's (Sean Penn) daughter in Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River," which features several strong performances.  

Cemented in a square of sidewalk in a Boston neighborhood are two-and-a-half names etched by children. Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” is about the three grown men whose lives changed when a pedophile posing as a police officer abducted one of the kids and left all three of them emotionally scarred.

These three characters, as well as all the supporting characters in the film, come to life in strong performances by Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney. Brian Helgeland’s screenplay, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, gives them all the complexities that create truly interesting and intriguing characters.

As adults, the three men are only acquaintances until another incomprehensible act brings them back together. Each of them has his own problems.

Jimmy (Penn), a shop owner with a history of crime, is heartbroken when his first-born daughter, a 19-year-old, is murdered. Her mother, his first wife, died years earlier while Jimmy was in prison.

Sean (Bacon) is now a state homicide detective and receives the case. He currently feels distraught because his pregnant wife left home and his only friend is his partner, Whitey (Laurence Fishburne). Eastwood creates interesting scenes in which Sean’s wife calls him, but doesn’t say anything. We only see her mouth and the telephone as Sean one-sidedly chats with her about nothing important.

Finally, Dave, the abductee, is married and has a son, but still remembers his imprisonment and escape and freezes up when he walks by the cement engraving. The night of the murder, he comes home to his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) covered in blood. He says he attacked a mugger and worries he hurt him, but Celeste begins to suspect otherwise when she hears about the murder.

Sean doesn’t suspect Dave, but Whitey points out that as a former abductee, he meets the profile perfectly.

The interaction between the characters is mesmerizing, with brilliant acting in every scene. In the morgue after identification, Sean and Whitey interview Jimmy immediately because he might forget details if they wait. Bacon tries to avoid many bad memories while Fishburne understandably asks many hard questions. Penn, one of the best actors working, relives Jimmy’s bad memories—Dave’s abduction, prison, his wife’s death—with startling sadness. Laura Linney is also strong in the scene as Annabeth, Jimmy’s wife.

Robbins is also indispensable, having to create a believable character whose past haunts him in order for the film to work. Robbins pulls off monologues about Dave’s past, in which he refers to the pedophiles as “vampires,” as well as interrogation scenes that require a much cooler persona, including one in which Dave turns Whitey around on his own trick.

Eastwood creates some of his best work in this film and brings the Boston neighborhood where the film was shot to life. The sets feel lived in—you can see details like stickers in the stores—and the atmosphere is the perfect one for the story of tragedy interrupting everyday life.

The film is also well-structured. While not showing what happened that night might feel a bit like jerking around the audience, the film puts us in the other characters’ shoes, forcing us to decide whether Dave is guilty of the crime in question.

The ending unweaves naturally, avoiding moralizing and explanation (although a Lady MacBeth-esque scene comes a bit out of nowhere). The conclusion is ambiguous, with a mysterious gesture and a meditation on human actions.

Sometimes people do things for almost no reason at all. Other times it comes back to the tragedy that occurred more than 20 years ago, but still haunts the mind. Eastwood and his cast have created an emotional characters who face the damages of life, like everybody else.

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