Dennis Lehane was a respected crime novelist until the publication of MYSTIC RIVER,
which catapulted him onto the bestseller lists. The novel was definitely a good read, a drama
about three childhood friends torn apart as children by one traumatic event and brought together
again some twenty-five years later by another crime that leads to tragic results. When the boys,
Sean (Kevin Bacon), Jimmy (Sean Penn) and Dave (Tim Robbins) were young boys, two
pedophiles claiming to be police officers kidnapped Dave. His return marked the end of the
boys' close friendship and although they remained in the general vicinity of their childhood
neighborhood in a Boston suburb, they drifted apart. Sean became a police officer and his
dedication to his work cost him his marriage. Jimmy became a teenage father, went to prison,
and emerged as a neighborhood tough who owns and operates a convenience store. Dave
evolved into a hulk of man, working odd jobs and overprotecting his own son. Jimmy's
second wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) and Dave's wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) are cousins.
One night Dave arrives home in the early morning covered in blood telling his wife a
not too believable story about possibly killing a mugger. The next morning Jimmy's teenage
daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is found murdered in a park and Sean is one of the detectives
assigned to the case. Because Dave was one of the last people to see Katie alive at a bar and
his alibi is sketchy, he emerges a suspect.
While the film has some trappings of a whodunit, the murder is merely a plot device
to bring the three former friends together. Brian Helgeland's screenplay is faithful to Lehane's
novel and it gives the actors several meaty roles. Penn perfectly captures the pain and anger of
losing a child while Robbins is credible as a broken man haunted by demons. Harden registers
as his long suffering wife who makes a fatal error and Kevin Bacon does terrific work as the
detective. Laura Linney doesn't have much to do until near the end when she gets to deliver
a strong speech (taken almost verbatim from the book) in which she offers unusual comfort
to her grief-stricken husband.
Clint Eastwood directs cleanly and sharply. One can easily see why he would be attracted
to the material as it contains major themes that run through much of his work: a violent incident
from the past somehow reemerges and results in revenge often through vigilantism. Eastwood's
main work has been in Westerns (the best one directed by Sergio Leone) and crime dramas
(including a fruitful collaboration with Don Siegel). He won deserved critical acclaim and an
Academy Award for his Western UNFORGIVEN (1992) that was in some ways an homage
to Leone. With MYSTIC RIVER, he pays tribute to Siegel. There's a classical feel to the
piece because it traffics in the destructive forces of revenge and the struggles of violent men
trying to hold on to semblance of normality through their families. That no one finds true peace
or redemption in the end is the most tragic aspect.
Running time: 137 mins.
MPAA Rating: R for language and violence
Viewed at the Loews Cineplex Village VII
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.