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MYSTIC RIVER, 2003
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MYSTIC RIVER MOVIE POSTER
MYSTIC RIVER, 2003
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney
Review by Christopher Stacy



SYNOPSIS:

During a summer in 1975, Dave Boyle and two friends, Jimmy and Sean, are playing on a sidewalk in Boston when Dave is abducted by two men and subjected to sexual abuse over a period of several days. Eventually escaping, but haunted into adulthood by his trauma, Dave becomes a primary suspect when Jimmy's daughter, Katie, is found murdered. Sean, assigned to investigate the crime, finds himself facing both demons from the past and demons in the present as the circumstances surrounding Katie's death are uncovered.

REVIEW:

Legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood has, in his newest movie, “Mystic River,” woven a brilliant tale of crime and drama. This movie succeeds on so many different levels, and it touches on multiple themes, but that which struck me most was its take on friendship and loyalty, and revenge. Three boyhood friends, now in their thirties, are pulled back together, even right back to the old neighborhood, by a horrific crime, and their ties to one another do not make the crime easier to solve and cope with, but instead, their one-time bond stands in the way of resolution. The movie opens with three boyhood friends – Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) playing ball in the streets of a quiet Boston suburb adjacent to the Mystic River. Dave is kidnapped and brutally raped for four days. His life, and his friends’, are never the same.

Already, “Mystic River” has touched on an interesting concept. Everybody, at least at some point, has reflected upon their lives and thought, “what if this had happened,” or “what if this thing hadn’t happened?” Our lives can be defined by an infinite number of possibilities, each life-changing event shaped by the one before it. How much different would Sean, Jimmy and Dave’s lives had been had Dave not been abducted. Or what if it had been Jimmy? This single event became the defining moment of these boys’ lives. Dave wasn’t left with much of a chance for normalcy, so his disturbed personality as an adult struck me as no surprise. The fact that Sean and Jimmy turned out to be such polar opposites, after having shared the exact same traumatic experience, is curious. Jimmy became a gang leader and criminal and even did time, whereas Sean became a respected cop in a classier part of Boston. Jimmy has reformed but there is still a strong edge to him, something that Penn conveys perfectly – that somewhere, deep below the surface, a criminal, a dangerous person, still exists.

Jimmy, propelled forward by his anger and unthinkable loss, becomes a loose cannon. Penn is perfect – he always looks like he’s about to explode. As the story unfolds, Jimmy reverts even further back to his days as a criminal. As much as he had changed, married a nice wife (Laura Linney) and ran a local grocery store, Jimmy still had that dark element deep within him, and with his daughter’s brutal murder, Jimmy has become dangerous once again. This is another recurrent theme in many of Eastwood’s projects, especially “Unforgiven.” The idea, I believe, is that as hard as one tries, he can never completely erase his former self. Hint traces will always remain, awaiting to be reborn.

Not only does Sean Penn deliver a powerful performance, but the entire star-studded cast meets its lofty expectations. As he attempts to solve the case, Sean (Bacon), faces the painful fact that a former friend of his may have committed the murder. We can see the indecision on Sean’s face, and on an even more personal level, we sympathize for Sean because his estranged wife does not speak to him. Of the three boyhood friends, Sean has become the most “normal,” and he faces hardships – difficult decision-making, the value of loyalty – that we all face.

In Dave, Tim Robbins portrays another character that is quiet, subdued, turned inward, much like his characters in both “Jacob’s Ladder” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” The big difference in “Mystic River,” however, is that Robbins’ Dave garners little sympathy. He is weird, creepy, and undoubtedly he killed someone that fateful night, we’re just not yet quite sure who. Dave is surprisingly smart and cool too, seen in the interrogation room as he cockily dodges every question. Marcia Gay Harden does an effective job portraying Dave’s wife, Celeste, who must first lie to the police about her husband, and then live with the cold fact that Dave is evidently a killer. Harden’s furled brow, her looks of confusion, fear and indecision, are very believable. Faced with a similar situation, how many of us would protect our love ones, and how many would turn them in?

Eastwood now focuses the rest of the film on the theme of revenge. This is another area of Eastwood’s expertise, seen in 1992’s “Unforgiven.” The idea is that a person can be so driven to revenge that he will go through with a violent act no matter what. In “Unforgiven,” it doesn’t matter that Will Munny (Eastwood) has two young kids now. With the murder of his friend, Munny returns to his own murderous ways to avenge the loss.

The same can be said of Jimmy in Mystic River. He was once a criminal, a killer, and he’d reformed, but despite the new life he has – a wife, kids – Jimmy must avenge his daughter’s murder, no matter what. We see Jimmy’s ability to be dishonest and deceptive when he is at the riverside, with Dave’s life in his hands. He says repeatedly, “tell me you did it and I won’t hurt you,” tyring to coax a confession from Dave. Of course, the audience can already predict that as soon as Dave confesses, Jimmy’s going to whack him anyway.

Mystic River reaches its climax when Jimmy kills Dave and dumps him in the river. In the aftermath, Jimmy comes to the realization that Dave was innocent after all. Moreover, Sean is quite certain that Jimmy has killed Dave, though neither will fully acknowledge it to the other. The theme of loyalty and the strains placed upon friendships are explored again. As Sean struggles with the information, he finally - and despite being an officer of the law – decides not to arrest his old friend.

Mystic River grabbed my attention right from the beginning. The dialogue was sharp, emotional and intense. The setting was bleak – a lower-middle class neighborhood set against gray skies. Most of the characters even wore outfits that matched this overall dark mood of the story. I found myself angered during the movie, angered that someone had killed this young girl so brutally, and I wanted to see Jimmy’s revenge. This was Jimmy’s story, and for him, once his daughter was killed, the entire story become one of grief and vengeance.

I always enjoy movies whose themes include revenge. This is probably why I enjoy crime and gangster movies so much. There are two kinds of reactions to an event like the one that happened to Jimmy – we either roll over and do nothing, or we get our revenge. Fortunately, most people never need to find out which reaction they’d have. I wonder, too, if Jimmy had never known that Dave wasn’t actually the killer, if his revenge would have still been as rewarding. Actually, I think it would have been. In his mind, he’d killed his daughter’s killer, and that’s all he needed to know. The same idea is touched on in “Memento” – if you cannot remember getting your revenge, then what’s the point? Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” is an intense, stylish adult drama, written and directed very intelligently. For fans of Eastwood, or of the genre, or of the themes of revenge and loyalty, “Mystic River” is worth seeing.

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