The hype is true. One of the best casts of 2003 team up to deliver undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2003, Mystic River. Even the director, Clint Eastwood, is a celebrity.
Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney star in this riveting crime drama that puts to shame movies such as Sleepers. Penn, Bacon and Robbins star as Jimmy, Sean and Dave respectively, three grown men that have known each other since childhood. Jimmy is an ex-con who is running a small store to support his wife and children, Sean is a homicide detective, and Dave is a quietly family man still haunted by his troubling childhood, which, by luck, his two friends avoided. Things are turned upside down when Jimmy's 19-year old daughter is murdered. Sean is brought in on the case, but Jimmy immediately contacts his friends to put matters into his own hands. Even worst is the horrifying reality that Dave's wife is beginning to believe: that Dave killed the girl.
Mystic River is the perfect blend of drama and crime, a story that reaches deep into the characters' souls - and the acting talents of the key players - while also providing a rich and intriguing plot that can keep even the most emotionally-insensitive people attentive. The movie plays like a thriller that takes its time so that it can look at each character individually. Only in a few moments does the storyline sputter, mainly due to the many scenes where Penn cries and moans over his loss. Nevertheless, the story is good and captivating. There are a few mild twists and keeps you on the edge of your seat, even if you are able to predict the conclusion halfway through (as I did). Even when you do know what is going to happen, the tension is incredible because you don't want it to happen.
The story plays out well mostly thanks to the direction of Clint Eastwood. He has made some enjoyable films, such as True Crime and Space Cowboys, but much of his recent directed work has starred him, and thus he has had no problem making fun of himself. Most of his movies have been at least partly comical, but Mystic River is a change of pace; not only does he not appear in the movie, but it perhaps has two jokes in the entire running length of the film. Whereas his other films all look similar in style and mood, Mystic River is drastically different, and for the better. The movie is slow but methodical, never breaking pace and able to pull the audience in more and more with every scene.
Still, what will be talked about for years to come is the acting. Penn, who by many is considered to be the best actor in Hollywood yet never the most marketable, makes his latest move towards an Oscar with the conflicted character of Jimmy. Jimmy is a loving father, but is full of rage and has the mind of an ex-con. He loves his daughter so much that he is willing to kill for her.
Robbins also turns in a career-boastin performance as the creepy and troubled Dave. In reality, Robbins, though highly respected, has done very little since 1994's Shawshank Redemption. He was good in Arlington Road, as well as other things, but has not been involved in such a moving film since. He may also be seeing Oscar nomination come March.
Kevin Bacon is another member of the cast that delivers a good performance, though his may be overlooked compared to the other performances. Bacon has consistently turned in good performances but not too often stellar ones, but here the main problem is that his character does not have the same depth as does Jimmy or Dave. Eastwood tries to solve that problem with a pointless subplot about his estranged wife, but doesn't really do the trick.
While the three lead males have been the ones most talked about in the media, Marcia Gay Harden also gives an Oscar-worthy performance. She has a much larger lead than first suspected, and perhaps gives the most memorable performance of anyone. After all, she is the one that has to come to the realization that her husband may be a murderer.
The only big actor seemingly left out of the loop is Laura Linney, who has a very small and unmemorable role. She doesn't do a bad job, but isn't given enough screen time to allow the audience to connect to her. She seems relatively unphased by the death of her stepdaughter, even though it is clear that her character is supposed to have loved her.
Mystic River is a movie of few flaws. It lags in a few parts here and there, but for the most part is incredibly consistent and addictive. Clint Eastwood has truly made the pinnacle of his directorial career.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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