Today: April 10, 2024

Mystic River

Murder mystery and character deconstruction abound in Cilnt Eastwood’s brooding look at crime and consequence.

Based on Dennis Lehane’s (Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone) blistering novel about life in the close-knit community of Boston, Mystic River
is not easy to label as just one thing. On the surface it is a
‘Who-done-it?’ murder mystery but this river runs deep with ideas that
settle within the story and make for a darkly immersive journey into the
psyche of all those that are effected by a series of tragedies.

Jimmy (Penn), Dave (Robbins) and Sean (Bacon)
are childhood friends until Dave is abducted. When he returns to the
neighbourhood the damage is done and they drift apart. Years later,
Jimmy has become a local gangster, Sean is a homicide detective with
marriage issues and Dave is a loving father who has never been able to
forget his harrowing ordeal. When Jimmy’s daughter goes missing, the
three men find their lives unexpectedly thrown together and forced to
address their mistakes.

When Lehane’s book was first published he refused to sell the rights to anyone.
The Hollywood bigwigs came calling sensing the draw to such a visceral
story but he would not be swayed. That was until Eastwood made a
personal call to the author and he could not say no to such a veteran of
cinema. In many ways, Mystic River shares much of Eastwood’s need to
examine man. One of the film’s central themes is the idea that every
action has a consequence and it is in dealing with those consequences
that defines the central characters. Atoning for ones sins is something
that is apparent in much of Eastwood’s work. Where it is a departure for
him, at the time the film was made in 2003, is that it deals with very
real people, with very real problems. There are no tough gunslingers,
master thieves or space cowboys here.

The streets of Boston are painted grey, there is no shimmering sun on
the horizon and Eastwood intentionally uses a very washed out pallet.
This is a world where the difference between right and wrong is blurred
so this grey area perfectly encapsulates the overall ambiguity of the
tone. If anything, Eastwood keeps his direction reserved, understated
and secondary to the story, allowing his actors time to convey much of
the subtext that is required.
Where he excels is in balancing all the plot lines to Robert Altman (Gosford Park) like efficiency ensuring that everyone is given enough screen time to leave a mark. Written by Brian Helgeland, who also wrote the staggering LA Confidential,
the plot loses much of the source material’s back-story but, at over
two hours long, never feels long and relies on the audience to question
every last detail.

an ensemble film such as this you need a solid cast and Mystic River
has that in spades. Kevin Bacon brings his presence from films like Sleepers (1996) and The Woodsman (2004)
with a wonderfully understated performance. Sean is a man struggling
with a failed marriage but Bacon instils a reserved confidence and power
to the role making him the closest thing the film has to a ‘good guy’
and endlessly engaging.

Tim Robbins in a similar quiet man persona of The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
but with heartbreaking affect. Dave, due to his childhood ordeal, is a
shadow of a man and Robbins talks in hushed tones that retain the timid
nature of youth. That he would take the Best Supporting Oscar in 2004 is
testament to his performance. His fellow Oscar winner that year, for
Leading Actor, Sean Penn is on career best form. As Jimmy he is a ball
of repressed rage and could easily fit into any Scorsese film. What
makes his acting so powerful here is that he conveys such emotion to his
anger. He is a man who has lost something so precious that he begins to
question everything and everyone in his life. Even while at his
menacing best Penn’s eyes glisten with grief. The three central
characters are all brilliantly supported by the likes of Gay Harden, Linney and Fishburne who all deliver memorable supporting roles the likes of which could easily have slipped by the way side.

Mystic River is a film that truly draws attention. An intricate look
at how people deal with trauma, how some people wear their scars and
others hide them. A loss of innocence that is so powerful as to find
pathos in almost every scene. Released, as part of the 35 Films 35 Years
Clint Eastwood box set Mystic River is a film that demands repeat viewing for the sheer volume of emotions that it evokes.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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