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    Mystic River

    Myst opportunity

    "Mystic River" is a skillfully made, powerfully acted but naggingly disappointing mystery which makes the most of its human drama but squanders its carefully built-up intrigue with a partly trivial ending.


    Mysteries are made of misdirection. If the answer to the puzzle were obvious from the start, you wouldn't have a mystery, so the author will often lead you away from the truth, saving it for the story's stunning conclusion. The better the writer, the better the conclusion and the less obvious the misdirecting will seem.

    Directed by: Clint Eastwood.
    Written by: Brian Helgeland.
    Adapted from the novel by: Dennis Lehane.
    Cast: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Chapman, Laura Linney, Adam Nelson, Emmy Rossum, Cameron Bowen, Tom Guiry, Jason Kelly, Eli Wallach.
    Cinematography: Tom Stern.

    Related links: Official site
    Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam (212) 875-5600 Fri. Oct. 3, 8:00 pm ATH Fri. Oct 3, 9:00 pm AFH

    New York Film Festival 2003
  • 21 Grams
  • The Barbarian Invasions
  • Crimson Gold
  • Dogville
  • Elephant

  • The Flower of Evil
  • The Fog of War
  • Mystic River
  • Raja
  • S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

  • Festival site
  • Skillfully made and starring a dream dramatic cast, "Mystic River" seems like a sure crowd-pleaser — and yet something about it nags at the back of the mind. The problem is that the film itself is a misdirection. The mystery of a teenage girl's brutal murder is almost completely irrelevant to the story the filmmakers are ultimately trying to tell, and after many meticulously drawn connections, it's a disappointment to see most of our two-plus hours of careful attention thrown away.

    The story starts in early-'70s Boston, with the abduction of a kid in front of his two playmates by a man posing as a cop. After four days of torture, the kid escapes, and the next thing we see, this trio has grown up. Dave (Tim Robbins) is a fragile but responsible dad who keeps the torment of his childhood trauma bottled up inside. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a detective, while Jimmy (Sean Penn) went the opposite direction, doing petty crimes and two years in jail before going straight. He owns a neighborhood grocery store and has a respectable family, but he's still buddies with the old gang of questionable characters.

    Mystic River  
    These people's lives begin to careen out of control when Jimmy's pretty 19-year-old daughter goes missing, her mangled body eventually found in a nearby park. The night of her disappearance, Dave arrives home at 3 a.m. with bloody slashes on his hands and a stab wound in his belly. He claims he faced down a mugger and "went totally nuts on him." Whatever the truth of his story, a raging inner demon that he has always fearfully suppressed clearly broke loose on this night, to Dave's own horror.

    Two sets of gears are set in motion. A pair of detectives (Bacon and Laurence Fishburne) examine evidence, question witnesses and talk strategy in a process that's rigidly methodical but effective, especially as murky pieces of the characters' pasts begin to resurface. Simultaneously, we begin to sense that Jimmy (Penn) has something going on behind the scenes. His pals the none-too-subtly-named Savage brothers — little seen but much felt during most of the movie — beat the cops to certain witnesses, and it feels as if there's another, more clandestine investigation going on. "I'm going to find him," Jimmy vows to daughter's prone corpse in the funeral-home basement. "I'm going to find him before the police do. I'm going to find him and kill him."

    The police-procedural aspect is by-the-book but very thorough and engrossing, and Bacon and Fishburne turn in the most appealing performances in the film. And yet, their part is a huge letdown when the answers finally come. Not to try to give away any endings, but after you see the film, just try to find the killer's name in the credits. The basic irrelevance of the answer seems contemptuous — and after all of the intrigue that's gone before it, the movie seemed to be unearthing something much more significant. (By comparison, the John Sayles film "Lone Star" also used a murder as a vehicle to explore buried secrets of the past, and the ending emphatically delivered on all of the intrigue built up throughout the film. This one doesn't.)

    The film really wants to tell the other aspect of its story — the tale of what happened to childhood pals Jimmy, Dave and, in cursory fashion, Sean. This half-film is a very strong one — everything you might expect from director Clint Eastwood and this collection of actors. Although Penn and Robbins skirt the edges of believability a few times, they both have well-drawn characters with strong emotions to contend with, and they give typically intense performances. Still, their story feels only half as weighty when interwoven with a mystery so trivialized. The film could have meant much more if it hadn't squandered half of its substance.

    OCTOBER 3, 2003

    Reader comments on Mystic River:

  • Mystic Dissapointment   from Gary, Oct 18, 2003
  • Re: Mystic Dissapointment   from vanessa, Oct 20, 2003
  • Re: Mystic Dissapointment   from tekaya hamadi, Dec 11, 2004
  • Re: Mystic Dissapointment   from sue, Oct 20, 2003
  • Re: Mystic Dissapointment   from Robt, Oct 21, 2003
  • Re: Mystic DisaPpointment (SPOILERS)   from audrey, Oct 30, 2003
  • Re: Mystic DisaPpointment (SPOILERS)   from Mariano, Nov 9, 2003
  • Re: Mystic DisaPpointment (SPOILERS)   from audrey, Nov 16, 2003
  • mystic river   from vanessa, Oct 20, 2003
  • Mystic River   from Joann Lessard, Nov 16, 2003
  • mystic river review   from cs53096, Jan 24, 2004
  • Re: mystic river review   from KT, Jan 25, 2004
  • SAVAGE BROTHERS   from Bill, Mar 3, 2004
  • Mystic River   from Farimah, Aug 4, 2004
  • MYSTIC RIVER   from CLARK DALLAS, Nov 24, 2004
  • Harsher than a Greek Tragedy   from Harold G., Nov 24, 2004
  • great movie   from terry, Jan 1, 2005
  • Re: Saw movie, but still confused about crime details.   from Duh. It was Jimmy's wife, Oct 21, 2008
  • it's just wrong   from san, Jul 22, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Mystic River"