View Full Version : Been There, Done That

10-14-2003, 01:49 AM
I saw this film on Saturday night here in Los Angeles, and I must say that the sum of the parts are better than the whole.

True enough, Mr. Eastwood's directorial talents are obvious, but I found the familiarity of this story (haven't read the novel, but saw the plot progression from miles away) somehow left me emotionally detached. Somehow I didn't quite care as much as Eastwood planned, but I must also say the acting throughout was exceptional.

Most impressive -- Kevin Bacon's assured performance, which does not falter in the midst of more colorful portrayals.

I had a most interesting discussion with a couple leaving the theatre, and after exchanging opinions, I came to realize where my marginal rating of "Mystic River" lies. The direction could be described at poetic...and this story screams out for the rawness of a Scorsese-style direction.

Also, I felt a disconnect with the adult portrayals as a group of former childhood friends -- I didn't quite believe the adult performers were once the child actors....the best example I can think of would be the character portrayed by Richard Gere in "An Officer and A Gentlemen"...the child actor portarying a young Zack brought an uncanny emotional connect to the adult Zack, pushing the story forward.

Even though there are verbal references, I felt no similar connection, and given the circumstances (no giveaway if you haven't seen or know the story), this was key to the storytelling.

Ultimately, "Mystic River" is a tour-de-force show of acting...but does it rise above the highly stylized direction? You be the judge.

Chris Knipp
10-15-2003, 04:10 PM
Here's my review of the film:

Detective story epic

Mystic River the film, like the Dennis Lehane novel Brian Helgeland adapted for it, seeks to raise the police procedural/murder mystery genre to the level of dark solemn tragic epic much as do the Godfather series and James Gray’s The Yards. The story aims successfully to convey the essential feel of life in working class Boston – especially the lifelong interconnectedness of its inhabitants A doomed common past congeals into the film’s prologue with three eleven-year-old boys playing hockey in the street in front of their houses. Jimmy and Sean watch while Dave is lured away in a car by two evil men posing as cops. We understand with horror that he is sexually abused and tortured for four days before he manages to run away. “Sometimes it seems as if we all three got in that car,” the adult Jimmy says. “Escaped from wolves” is how Dave sees himself. Dave's terrible childhood experience highlights the brutal, inhuman side of mankind. The horror of it hovers over the events that follow.

Twenty-five years later Jimmy’s 19-year old daughter is found murdered in a deep hole in a wood much like the cellar where Dave was held by the molesters. The murder reactivates the painful ties between these three individuals, their families, and their emotional histories.

The movie unfolds in the slow, solemn, methodical, sometimes flat Clint Eastwood directorial style, which for the most part works compellingly here because of the story’s inherently tragic overtones and the powerful understatement of the acting. A forgivable exception to the latter is Sean Penn in the lead role as Jimmy Markum, the murdered girl’s dad, a reformed criminal who owns a convenience store. He is a violent man who races to find the murderer before the homicide detectives, one of whom is the other boy who watched Dave taken away, Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon). Penn’s performance is explosive, the others’ implosive.

The Jimmy/Sean dualism is obvious. The wild card is Dave Boyle (hauntingly played by Tim Robbins), a recessive, suffering handyman whose wife suspects him because he has come home very late on the night of the murder saying he’s killed a mugger. Not only is the painful intimacy between the three men reactivated by the murder, but Dave’s and Jimmy’s wives are cousins. It’s as if the people are all cousins. They cannot escape from each other. This is a closed world of haunted memories and moldering disappointments. Katie, the dead girl, had a boyfriend, Brendan Harris (Tom Guiry) who was about to run away with her. Brendan has a mean, foulmouthed mother and a mute younger brother and the boys and the brother’s best pal were often seen at Jimmy’s convenience store, just as Dave was at the bar where Katie was seen the night she died. A nightmare has begun and we watch with fascination as it unfolds.

As the detective Dean, with his partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne), explore the case, the many characters are serially highlighted. A punishing and manipulative final sequence cuts back and forth between a vigilante killing and the detectives’ tracking down of the real killer.

There are some oddities. At forty-three (Penn) and forty-five (Bacon and Robbins), the lead actors are clearly too old for the thirty-five-year old characters they’re playing. (That they’re meant to be that young means Jimmy was 16 when his daughter Katie was born.) Halfway through Whitey and Dean are revealed to be working for the FBI; why wasn’t this clear earlier? Bacon’s relatively uninteresting performance can’t entirely be faulted, since his role is purely functional, but it’s still a disappointment. The shots of his missing wife showing only part of her face at a pay phone seem pointless teases. Marcia Gay Harden’s skittishness is mannered and irritating. Laura Linney's performance lacks the crude energy that would justify her final Lady Macbeth moment. And there are some times when the relentless rhythm of the movie begins to falter and merely seem plodding.

Dave is sucked down by a crime of which he was the victim and it seems he too must be punished after he seeks indirect revenge for the perverted act that maimed him for life. Yet his own incestuous murder goes unpunished. The fatalism of the story must have appealed to Eastwood’s sensibility, but also its rootedness in the mundane world of working class Boston. The interconnectedness and slow inevitablability of Mystic River's sad story may link it with the Greeks, but it's only the everyday naturalism the film achieves that validates the film as tragecy, that gives the violent events true weight and humanity. The film's solemnity works because of the way Robbins and Bacon (Penn less so) immaculately mimic Boston accents and the cameramen capture the familiar look of Boston Streets and interiors. Without that anchoring in the ordinary, the high air of epic horror would seem garish and cheap. There are some flaws in the film, but they do not detract from its overall power.

Clint Eastwood ages well. At seventy-three he has directed perhaps his most complex film. And he has even composed the sad, brooding, but never heavy-handed score, which with a poetic justice rare in Hollywood is performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

12-31-2003, 12:26 PM
I finally saw Mystic River last night.

I had high expectations and Eastwood delivers.

I agree with Frank about the child actors and the connection with their adult counterparts. Not really believeable, but I "gave it up" for Clint because he kept me visually interested. Great camera work in this movie.

Kevin Bacon should get a Best Supporting Actor nomination. About time. He was an acting anchor. He hasn't been this focused since JFK.

Sean Penn is intense. The "Is that my daughter?!" scene is hard to watch. I was thinking if I had lost a son or daughter as young as Penn's I'd be an emotional wreck. You believe he's fucked up.

Tim Robbins is a great actor but I felt conscious of his acting. I knew he was "acting". I could suspend belief for the child actors, but not Tim. Don't ask me why. I think it was because I had a hunch he was innocent and felt a little played by Eastwood.

All in all I was impressed with the overall themes (and themes-the score is incredible) and I give it a thumbs up. Somebody's gotta make movies like this, and legend Clint isn't going to be around forever...

Chris Knipp
01-03-2004, 10:15 AM
I'd agree with you overall, Johan, that Mystic River is one of the year's best movies. It has solemnity, scale, and emotional power. It is of a piece. But it has some serious flaws in the story line and the structure. I still think the switching back and forth toward the end between Sean Penn's scene with robbins and the scene with Kevin Bacon is manipulative and false. I think the critics went overboard on Mystic River and I wonder why. I again refer readers to Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent discussion in the Chicago Reader.