Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins) were childhood friends splintered apart after young Dave was kidnapped from their midst by pedophiles who held him for four days. A generation later, the murder of Jimmy's nineteen year old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum, "Passionada") reunites the three in the strange patterns and secrets held in the "Mystic River."
Clint Eastwood may be adding another Oscar to his shelf this year if "The Lord of the Rings" juggernaut doesn't swamp his richly textured, dark film. Brian Helgeland's ("A Knight's Tale") adaptation of David Lehane's novel is true to the source, yet Eastwood and his perfectly cast ensemble have added layers that give this blue collar multi-generational tragedy Shakespearean scope. It is one of those rare films that surpasses the impact of the book.
Straight arrow Sean and malleable Dave won't go along with Jimmy's idea of 'borrowing' a car, so he uses a stick to write his name in wet cement instead. Just as Dave, the third, is about to scratch out a 'v,' a black car approaches with two men, one of whom gets out, flashes a badge, and begins questioning the kids about destroying municipal property and where they live. Dave, the only one of the trio who doesn't live on the street they're standing on, is bullied into the back of the car just as he and the other two begin sensing that something isn't right about these guys. As with Katie's murder, the horror Dave endures isn't shown but implied, with one quick shot of a looming shadow entering a basement and flashes of Dave's escape flight through the woods.
Dave the adult is a troubled man with a young boy of his own. He's still connected to Jimmy as his wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden, "Casa de los Babys"), is Jimmy's second wife Annabeth's (Laura Linney, "The Mothman Prophecies") cousin. Celeste begins to torture herself with doubts when Dave returns home from a bar at 3 a.m. covered in someone else's blood and wounded by the man he says mugged him, whom he may have killed. The next morning she sees no note of a possible dead man in the paper, nor the next day...
Jimmy, crazy about his eldest daughter Katie who was all he had left after his first wife died during a two year jail stint sixteen prior, is concerned when she doesn't appear for her younger half-sister's first Communion. When police cars scream by the Church steps, Jimmy follows to a crime scene containing his daughter's car stained with blood. After muscling in with the aid of the aptly named Savage brothers (Kevin Chapman, "Blow" and Adam Nelson, "The Pledge"), Jimmy learns the news from State Police homicide detective Sean. Jimmy is shocked to learn that his daughter was planning to run away with Brendan Harris (Tom Guiry, "Black Hawk Down"), a neighborhood boy he has an irrational hatred for who visited his corner market that very morning asking for Katie, and demands that the kid be checked out.
The story, which is about how the past comes back to haunt the present, leads the audience and its characters to certain conclusions which it then unravels when the ironic truth is laid bare. Names from the past which begin to pop up in Sean and his partner Whitey Powers's (Laurence Fishburne, "The Matrix Reloaded") investigation, weave their way into the history of the present as we learn just how much events of the past shaped the character of those three small boys.
Sean Penn's only competition for the Best Actor Oscar may be his own performance in "21 Grams" should he cancel himself out. Looking like a young/old DeNiro, Penn gives a devastating performance as a man with such intense love of family he would do anything to protect them despite the guilt he carries around (Whitey tells Sean that he could tell Jimmy had done time because of the tension in his shoulders). Penn demands an emotional response to his grief, yet doesn't shrink from making Jimmy a tough, conflicted character. Robbins plays Dave as the ghost of a man. When something sets off the memories of his criminal abuse, his tortured attempts to convey his feelings to his wife confuses her, as it does us. Robbins quiet performance achieves its emotional response with a slower build, upon reflection. Bacon is quite solid as Sean, whose past association with these men blind him to certain possibilities. We see the impact of that long ago event on him in the state of his marriage. Bacon speaks to his absent wife, who calls him and says nothing. Over the course of the film, Bacon begins to react differently to these calls, eventually breaking through his own emotional barriers.
Support is equally outstanding. Marcia Gay Harden has the showiest role as Dave's suspicious and fearful wife, but she doesn't overplay it, gaining our sympathy. The film's final scene, where Celeste has become a ghost on the street just like Dave, is heartbreaking. Linney is pure Boston blue collar, mostly in the background until a relationship defining speech to Jimmy near film's end. Fishburne is very good as the outsider who tries to stabilize Sean with his own, more balanced, assessment of their investigation. Chapman and Nelson also make their mark as the neighborhood toughs who remain loyal to their former crime boss Jimmy. It is hard to believe these actors are not really brothers. The kids cast to play the childhood versions of the three main characters are nicely matched and extras all add authenticity to the Boston locations. And everyone in "Mystic River" gets the Boston accent right.
Eastwood connects the past and present with mirror shots (cinematography by Tom Stern, "Blood Work") across time - Dave looking out a car's back window as a boy and as an adult, taken away by two men who mean to do him harm each time; the neighborhood shot that zooms into the boys before Dave is abducted is repeated, a zoom out from the broken body of Katie. Joel Cox's editing is perfectly attuned to the story's emotional rhythms and complex cross-generational cycles. Eastwood's decision to film in Boston gives the film added dimension with perfectly chosen locations in the three-decker communities that surround the historic city.
Warner Brothers should pat themselves on the back for distributing "Mystic River," a film whose old fashioned story telling and rich characterizations guided with surehanded mastery by Clint Eastwood betters almost every independent film released this year.
Three boys - Jimmy, Sean and Dave - are playing hockey on their street when the ball goes down a storm drain. With nothing else to do, they decide to scratch their names into some fresh cement just laid down to repair the sidewalk. Suddenly, an authoritative voice behind them demands to know what the hell they are doing and a man, with a badge and handcuffs on his belt, takes one of the boys, Dave, in his car "to tell his mother" what he did. The boy is not seen again for four days, until he escapes the pedophiles, and hides within himself, ever since, his horrific story. Now, 25 years later, the former friends are joined again when tragedy strikes and the daughter of one is brutally murdered in the screen adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel, "Mystic River."
Clint Eastwood caused quite a stir in the greater Boston area when he came here for principle photography of his interpretation of Lehane's tale. Wherever he went and set up his cameras was treated as a festive event and Mr. Eastwood garnered much good will. The result shows in his latest work as he takes the complex, psychological story and, with Brian Helgeland's script, tells the author's story.
The horrors that young Dave experienced through his captivity has been indelibly imprinted on his mind and older Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) lives with the nightmare every day. He goes to a bar, alone, one Saturday night and sees Katie (Emmy Rossum), his former friend Jimmy's (Sean Penn) daughter, celebrating with her friends. Later, two things happen: Dave returns home after 3:00 AM covered with blood. He tells his wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) a story about a mugger attack and that, possibly, he killed the man. Next morning, there is not a word in the paper about a dead, beaten body being found. There is a brouhaha going on with the police investigating a missing 19 year-old - Katie.
The third of the friends, Sean Divine (Kevin Bacon) is a state police homicide detective assigned to investigate and is there when the girls battered and bloodied body is found. He must break the news to Jimmy Markum, with a promise to find the killer. The tail that Eastwood weaves is an intricate combination of emotions where Dave stopped living and began a tortured existence. Jimmy, an ex-con who was in prison when his wife died of cancer, came out of prison in mortal fear of his young daughter and grew to love and adore her, sometimes to the detriment of his second wife, Annabeth (Laura Linney) and their two younger daughters. Sean, too intensely involved in his job, pushed his wife away and has been estranged for six months.
This victims-of-circumstance crime yarn betters the book in a number of ways. I never got the feeling that the book was based in Boston. It felt generic and Eastwood, with his locations, second unit photography and credible efforts getting Boston accents from his talented actors really puts the Bostonian spin on things. The actors give dimension to each of the characters they portray, down to the small cameo by Eli Wallach as an elderly liquor storeowner.
Sean Penn is best as the volatile Jimmy who has a violent past and is willing to do deadly harm if he deems it the "right" thing. Tim Robbins does a decent turn as the troubled Dave, though he delivers it mostly with furrowed brow and furtive eyes. Kevin Bacon is adequate as detective Divine but, as in the book, his character is the least fleshed out of the three leads. Where "Mystic River" also shines is with its fine and large supporting cast. Laurence Fishburne gets notice as Sean's partner, Whitey Powers. Marcia Gay Harden gives a notable performance as Dave's wife Celeste, who is a catalyst for the events that transpire. Laura Linney, as Jimmy's wife, plays Annabeth well as the woman who knows that Katie was the most important thing in the world to Jimmy but makes damn sure, no matter what, he thinks of her and his two other daughters. Also notable are Kevin Chapman and Adam Nelson as the loose cannon friends of Jimmy, the Savage brothers.
Techs are first rate all around and Eastwood directs cast and crew with a deft hand. It's a rare thing when you like a movie better than the book. I give it a A-.
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