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Dark Secrets Lurking In the Old Neighborhood

May 12th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Mystic River 2003 poster A Mystic River 2003 poster B

Mystic River (2003)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Produced by Robert Lorenz, Judie G. Hoyt, Clint Eastwood
138 minutes

The most commercially successful movie Clint Eastwood has directed without also appearing in as an actor is a well-intentioned piece of hackwork. Neither assured filmmaking nor the presence of some of the best actors of their generation are capable to breathing more than a puff or two of emotional honesty into this overworked stock material, adapted by Brian Helgeland from an airport paperback mystery by Dennis Lehane. It’s preferable to the lifeless 1996 melodrama Sleepers, in which childhood sexual abuse formed cloudy skies over adult survivors played by Jason Patric, Billy Cudrup and Brad Pitt. This is because Eastwood and Lehane are more dedicated to their craft than Barry Levinson or Lorenzo Carcaterra, but any way you cut it, Mystic River suffers from an extreme rigor mortis of plot.

Though nothing in Mystic River feels unforced, there are bright spots. 17-year-old Emmy Rossum lights up the screen in her brief appearance as the murder victim, while Eastwood’s old bandit buddy Tuco (Eli Wallach) from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has a terrific cameo as a liquor store proprietor. Most everything else occurs in capital letters. Sean Penn gives an Award Winning Performance, baring a Boston accent and tattoos and allowed to launch into one of the greatest fits of ham in film history. The movie has nowhere left to go after Penn’s hysterics over the murdered body of his character’s daughter and it isn’t helped by a tired story about Dark Secrets lurking in The Old Neighborhood revealed through a Brutal Murder. This material deserves to be Abandoned and Left For Dead.

31 Days of Eastwood

On the banks of the Mystic River in suburban Boston, young Jimmy Markum (Jason Kelly), Sean Devine (Connor Paolo) and Dave Boyle (Cameron Bowen) are caught scrawling their names in cement by two men posing as police officers. Dave is taken away in their car and manages to escape his tormentors after four days of captivity. Years later, Jimmy (Sean Penn) is a reformed thief who operates a small market with his strong willed 19-year-old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) working behind the counter. Jimmy’s daughter with his second wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) is celebrating her first communion. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a Massachusetts State Police detective estranged from his wife, who took off with another man while carrying Sean’s child. Dave (Tim Robbins) is a husband and father and is still haunted by the tragedy of his childhood.

A 911 call alerts police to Katie’s abandoned, blood soaked car not far from the church where she fails to appear for the communion. Sean and his partner Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne) lead the search for Katie’s body and find her shot twice, beaten and left in the old bear cages in Franklin Park. Emotionally devastated, Jimmy engages his former criminal associates the Savage Brothers (Kevin Chapman, Adam Nelson) to hit the neighborhood for information. Dave saw Katie at a bar the night she was murdered and when he returns home to his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) injured and covered in blood — not to mention mentally unstable — the detectives take notice. Celeste begins to wonder if he had a part in Katie’s murder and makes the mistake of sharing her fears with Jimmy.

Mystic River 2003 Cameron Doyle Connor Paolo Jason Kelly

Mystic River 2003 Cameron Boyle

Mystic River 2003 Emmy Rossum Sean Penn

Mystic River 2003 Tim Robbins

Mystic River 2003 Laura Linney Sean Penn

Mystic River 2003 Kevin Bacon

Mystic River 2003 Sean Penn

Mystic River 2003 Marcia Gay Harden

Mystic River 2003 Kevin Bacon Sean Penn

Mystic River 2003

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 192 users: 88% for Mystic River

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 84 for Mystic River

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Drunk scene · Father/daughter relationship · Forensic evidence · Gangsters and hoodlums · Interrogation · Murder mystery · No opening credits

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mrs. Thuro's Mom // May 12, 2010 at 6:50 am

    I absolutely HATED this movie! Emmy Rossum was wonderful as Katie & I always love Tim Robbins, but I really despised all the other characters (especially Celeste). I can’t believe the Academy would give this film any kind of serious consideration. Premiere named Mystic River one of the “20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time”. I agree.

  • 2 Colleen Wainwright // May 16, 2010 at 11:01 am

    THANK YOU. Sorry to resort to all-caps straight off, but man, having someone finally out this as the “well-intentioned piece of hackwork” it is drives me to my own, hacky expression of relief.

    And thank YOU, Mrs. Thuro’s Mom—I’m going to track down that list right now. It’s so great, finding you’re neither insane nor alone. (Well, on this count, anyway.)

  • 3 Yojimbo_5 // May 18, 2010 at 10:55 am

    If we’re going to talk hackwork, that Premiere list is it.

    I have friends who DESPISE this movie (or “hate, hate, hate” as they say in the comments sections). They can’t tell me why. One broke down and said he hates the subject matter of pedophilia in movies (Does anyone LIKE it?). So, in “Changeling” it’s okay to hack them to bits after torturing them than to leave them alive. Interesting.

    I think Penn and Robbins are both over-the-top in this film, but Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne and Emmy Rossum are all terrific in it. Eastwood’s score is ponderous. But, it’s still a finely crafted film about “nature” and revenge, another example of Eastwood repudiating themes from his “star” days. It’s a dark, dark noir…about the dark underbelly of “normal” individuals, hiding under the surface…and how they can’t, won’t, or don’t change their behavior.

    It’s not entertaining, and depressing. But when does that make it a “bad” film?

    Oh, and the subject of “airport novels?” Eastwood uses them a lot–James Patterson’s “Blood Work.” “True Crimes.” “The Bridges of Madison County.” All of the type.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // May 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Monica: I’m glad I wasn’t the only boo bird on Mystic River. I’ll admit that Dennis Lehane or Nicholas Sparks certainly know something I don’t; consumers seem to love these paperbacks whether they’re in an airport or not. They’re Happy Meals (or Unhappy Meals in Lehane’s case) and Eastwood is certainly capable of better. Thanks for commenting!

    Colleen: Critics in the mainstream press — who attend many of the same film festivals and press screenings and probably friend each other on Facebook — can be like kids chasing a soccer ball. In the case of Mystic River, the herd chased the ball right off the field. I agree that Eastwood is an institution, but not every movie he makes is necessarily great.

    It’s always a pleasure to read your approbation here. That Premiere “20 Most Overrated list” is fun purely because of how blatantly ignorant it is. Wizard of Oz, Jules and Jim, 2001 made the cut. If the goal was to anger its readers and up a hit count, it succeeds.

    Jim: I think I can articulate why I disliked this movie. It’s cardboard stock material that doesn’t earn any of the tragedy it’s trying to sell. I can’t register much feeling for fake characters running through a worn out plot. Maybe it’s harsh to disparage the film as “airport novel” considering that The Godfather and Jaws came from that rack, but I couldn’t see whatever it was that Eastwood saw in this material. Thanks for commenting!

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