Mystic River (2003)


Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2

First let's get this out of the way - Mystic River is an outstanding film that is overflowing with brilliant Oscar caliber performances.  All the reviews agree that it is one of the years best films and should be recognized as such come awards time.  However, if any film other than Lord of the Rings: Return of the King wins best picture this year I will be absolutely outraged.  I don't care if the best films in history come over the next couple months.  If Peter Jackson doesn't get the best director and Return of the King the best picture Oscars, then this is not a world that I want anyone else to continue living in.  It is time to reward Peter Jackson with more than a nomination for the greatest film series ever made and they damn well better do it!

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Mystic River is a very well made character driven crime drama.  It is definitely one of the best films of the year and I highly recommend it to the adult viewing public (kids will be bored.)  It features some of the greatest acting performances of the year and is another excellent directing achievement for Clint Eastwood.  

The film tells the story of three childhood friends whose lives are forever damaged when one of them is captured by a child molester.  Later in life we see that Jimmy (Sean Penn) is now an ex-con who runs a small neighborhood grocery and greatly disapproves of his oldest teen daughters choice for a boyfriend.   Dave (Tim Robbins) is a handyman who is still haunted by and suffering from his molestation and Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a homicide detective who is troubled by a recent separation from his wife.  One night Jimmy's daughter is murdered.  On the same night Dave comes home late covered in blood muttering about a run-in with a mugger who he may have killed.  The next day Sean and his partner Whitey (Lawrence Fishburne) are assigned to the case.  

Although the movie contains a compelling and twisting who-done-it type mystery this is secondary to the story of the three men's lives.  It is the murder that brings the three estranged friends back together and their relationship with each other and their spouses that is the primary focal point of the film.  It is a working class slice of life picture with anthropological and social detail to rival a John Sayles film. 

The acting is exemplary.  I would not be the least bit disappointed if Sean Penn wins an Oscar for his portrayal of Jimmy.  He is becoming the DeNiro of his generation and in this movie he even looks like Deniro.  His emotional responses are palpable.  His anger, pain, disappointment, anguish and disgust are all so heartfelt.  Jimmy's wife, played by Laura Linney is also outstanding and turns in a wonderful performance as a woman and mother who will allow her husband to do whatever is necessary to protect the family.  Tim Robbins is one of my favorite actors and his emotionally tormented character Dave is probably one of the finest performances of his career.  Dave is in a constant state of contained misery and distress.  He's like a ticking bomb of anger and sorrow.  The soft spoken Robbins expertly portrays all of this.  Dave's wife Celeste, played by Marcia Gay Harden, is the other Oscar caliber performance in the film.  Her poignant confused affection for and protection of Dave is disturbingly balanced by her mistrust and ultimate betrayal of him.  Although Jimmy suffers the loudest it is Celeste who ultimately suffers the most.  

The rest of the performances are well done and able to keep up with the masterful shows listed above.  Kevin Bacon does fine as Sean.  We see his despair over his wife's leaving but in the scheme of things it is just not as important as what's going on in Jimmy and Dave's lives.  Lawrence Fishburne does well as Sean's partner who pushes him closer to suspecting his boyhood friend even though Sean is reluctant to add more pain to Dave's life. 

Mystic River is without a doubt one of the most well made films of 2003.  It is not to be missed.  It is unfortunate that it was released in a year when another film (see above) will take all the glory come awards time, but as other great films like Saving Private Ryan know, sometimes the only reward a perfect movie receives is the critical acknowledgement of its perfection.