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Mystic River Review

By Joe Lozito

"River" has a Heavy Flow


Pulling a mini-Robert Rodriguez, Clint Eastwood directs, produces and scores "Mystic River", the story of three old friends haunted and divided by a childhood tragedy in the titular Boston community. It's possible the Director With No Name over extended himself a bit. The opening 15 minutes of the film are just downright choppy, with scenes jumping around and matching poorly. The music as well is too often late-John Williams era bombast when it should ease back at let the heavily emotional film speak for itself. However, when the film gets going, after the discovery of a murdered 19-year-old girl, it becomes an Actors Showcase for its impressive ensemble cast.

Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins play the three friends. Each actor approaches the role differently but with similarly impressive results. These are three confident, talented artists each with their own unique style which lends authenticity to the underlying tension between their characters. Mr. Bacon, always reliable, provides the foundation of the story as the detective in charge of the case. Laurence Fishburne, happily 180 degrees from his over-enunciation fest in the "Matrix" movies, is his trusty partner and the one element of much-needed levity in the film. Mr. Robbins adopts a strikingly frumpy accent and walks like he's trying to hide under his feet. Mr. Penn, as the father of the murdered girl, has the most to do and he plays the role with good old-fashioned working class gusto. This is his "On the Waterfront". Mr. Penn's Jimmy has Brando's burly physicality and seething danger. He is a powerhouse here and, as far as Oscar goes, he could definitely be a contender.

The script, adapted by Brian Helgeland (of such varied accomplishments as "LA Confidental" and "Waterworld") from the novel by Dennis Lehane, allows ample time for each actor to show his or her stuff - almost to a fault. Some of the character moments, especially for the women, seem either tacked on, unnecessary or just plain out of character. Particularly jarring is Laura Linney's transformation from Irish housewife to Lady Macbeth. And whereas Ms. Linney is given too little screen time with too drastic an arc, Marcia Gay Harden is given little to do but whimper as Mr. Robbins' beleaguered wife. These two roles could have used more time on the drawing board to give these fine actresses something to do.

I enjoyed "Mystic River" for its top-shelf performances. It's an ambitious film which walks the difficult line between melodrama and parody. "Mystic" falters occasionally, but I respect its effort and I'm happy to see Mr. Eastwood growing as a director. But now I'd like to see the former spaghetti western hero ease up on the reigns a bit.

What did you think?

Movie title Mystic River
Release year 2003
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary What Clint Eastwood's murder mystery lacks in subtlety it makes up for in bravura performances from its A-list ensemble cast. Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon in particular stand out from the pack - which is really saying something.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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