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Lovers of great acting had best not pass up 'Mystic River,' Clint
Eastwood's powerful, award-laden adaptation of Dennis Lehane's
best-selling novel. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon play three
working class Bostonians forever bound together by a mutual childhood
tragedy that has since gone on to define the kind of people they've
become and the kind of lives they've led. The film begins with a brief
prologue as we see the three youngsters - Jimmy, Sean and Dave - out
playing in the street one day, when they are confronted by a pedophile
who, posing as a policeman, tricks one of them, Dave, into getting into
the car with him and another man. Fast forward to the present as we
pick up the trio as grown men who have, for all intents and purposes,
gone their separate ways. Penn is Jimmy Markum, a former petty thief
who spent two years in the slammer but who has since turned straight
and now owns a neighborhood liquor store. When Jimmy's daughter from
his first marriage turns up murdered, the three men's lives intersect
in ways they could never have imagined. Bacon is Sean Divine, a
homicide detective assigned to the case, and Robbins is Dave Boyle, a
sporadically employed man who may be a prime suspect in the murder.
Dave still lives with the trauma of that earlier soul-shattering
experience, while Jimmy and Sean wrestle with why they managed to
escape the cruel finger of fate that pointed so grimly at their hapless
playmate. The film is about how the events of our early lives (and, in
the case of Jimmy, it doesn't stop at this one incident) can end up
coming back to haunt us later down the road.
The Brian Helgeland screenplay makes the pain that each of these men experiences vivid and palpable. The grief Jimmy feels over the loss of his beloved child, the psychological torment Dave suffers as a result of his abuse, and the bewilderment and loneliness Sean experiences from a failed marriage all become integral to this dark tale of bitterness, revenge and attempted healing. At times, we do find ourselves wishing that the script would concentrate less on the details of the murder investigation and more on the inner workings of the three main characters. Too often we feel as if we are only scratching the surface of the roiling psychological torment taking place deep in the bowels of these men. The plotting, particularly towards the end, often feels more contrived than it needs to be, with heavy-handed ironies and obtruding parallelisms that don't seem to know when to leave well enough alone. Laura Linney, as Jimmy's second wife, has a key Lady Macbeth moment late in the film that might have been effective had we been more fully prepared for it and had her character been more thoroughly developed throughout the course of the film. As it is, the scene seems to come out of nowhere and leaves us both bewildered and hanging.
Still, these are minor quibbles when it comes to a movie as finely acted and directed as this one is. Penn hits all the right notes as a man facing the worst experience life could possibly throw at a person - the murder of one's child - trying to make sense of a tragedy that defies any rational explanation. Robbins beautifully underplays the role of a man scarred forever by what happened to him in his youth, now endeavoring to function as an adult when he was robbed of any semblance of a childhood. Bacon is excellent as the man who attempts to put all the pieces together, not only of the case but of the shattered lives he and his two buddies have been living all these years, and Marcia Gay Harden is outstanding as Dave's loving wife who struggles with what is perhaps the greatest moral dilemma faced by any character in the movie. Linney, Lawrence Fishburne and Tom Guiry offer fine supporting performances.
As director, Eastwood allows his superb cast ample time to develop their characters, never hurrying the proceedings along and always allowing the conversations to play themselves out. He recognizes the quality of the material and feels no need to gussy it up with self-conscious camera angles or fancy editing. He also uses the bleak settings of blue collar Boston as an effective backdrop to the stark, chilly tale he is telling.
Perhaps it is just an odd coincidence that three of the very best movies of 2003 - '21 Grams,' 'The House of Sand and Fog' and 'Mystic River' - all suffer from the same tendency on the part of the filmmakers to move away from reality and towards melodrama and contrivance in the final act. Of the three, '21 Grams' and 'The House of Sand and Fog' are harmed less by this than 'Mystic River' because they have a somewhat deeper thematic base and richer character development than does the Eastwood film. Still, 'Mystic River' is a mighty impressive achievement for those who made it and a rich, memorable experience for those who see it.
After three eleven year-olds from a close-knit lower middle class
Boston suburb undergo a tragic experience where one is abducted and
abused for four days, their lives diverge. The abducted one never
overcomes the emotional trauma, another begins a life of crime, and the
third becomes a cop. None ever venture very far from the neighborhood.
When tragedy strikes again, their lives are gradually brought back
together on a collision course that leads to some unexpected results.
Mystic River is a surprisingly dark film, with a controversial denouement. It is masterfully directed, acted, shot, edited, lit and scored. It is a mostly humorless and occasionally difficult realist drama, that will undoubtedly affect most viewers emotionally in a variety of ways--you may cry, you may become angry with at least one character and the lack of just deserts, and you may find it a bit depressing, although producer/director/composer Clint Eastwood and scripter Brian Helgeland do through in a relatively minor glimmer of hope/happiness at the very end.
Not that I tend to agree with awards organizations, but it should be no surprise that Mystic River has fine acting. A bulk of its many awards and nominations, including two Oscar victories, were for on screen performances. What is less recognized is the positive effect that the locations, cinematography, lighting and score have on the atmosphere of the film. Kokayi Ampah found the perfect, generic, metropolitan lower middle class neighborhoods, buildings and bars. It could be any slightly depressing, but maybe about to gentrify, suburb of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, or any number of at least Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. cities. Tom Stern's cinematography is continually, subtly inventive. Just check out the shot of Sean Penn where shadows from a railing form symbolic jail bars on the wall behind him. The lighting tends to the late 1990s/early 2000s look that is more monochromatic and leaning-towards blue. There are a lot of well-placed shadows, often creating a chiaroscuro look. Eastwood's score is understated but very effective. And how can you not like a film where three sexy girls dance on top of a bar to jazz fusion?
The story is absorbing. There is an unexpected (to me, at least--I try to watch films the first time knowing as little about them as possible) mystery angle that is effectively sustained until almost the end. I haven't read Dennis Lehane's novel yet, but I just ordered it after seeing the film--the film piqued my interest enough to want to explore more. But the most interesting part of the story to me, at least, was the extremely gray depiction of Penn's character, Jimmy Markum. Markum is revealed to be largely criminal, and not quite likable in his attitude towards his daughter (he doesn't respect her individuality, even though she's actually an adult). Yet at the same time, he is compared by at least one character to a "king", and in many ways, he is treated as one in the neighborhood. This may or may not be meant more metaphorically by the character saying it, but it is possible to read much of the film as being about a traditional king trying to live in modern day metropolitan suburbia. In some historical and cultural contexts, surely Markum's behavior in the film would have a more noble sheen, including his "mistake". This is perhaps why poetic justice never arrives, and instead, the character is seen as contented, with his queen and court by his side, being regaled with a parade instead. In modern contexts, many kings' behavior would not be so noble, and instead we'd notice more the injustices done to the peasantry and sympathize with them. Markum's character cannot be depicted more literally as royalty, as if he were far removed from the socio-economic status of the film's peasantry (although we find out eventually that he has more money to spare than most folks in his neighborhood), because it would be instead read as a moral tale of economic disparity as is exists solely in modern times. Putting everyone on a level playing field, more or less, is the only way to create a parable of how kings would be perceived, solely in terms of their decisions and actions, in our era.
Of course, there is more to the film than that, and it's not the only interpretation possible (in fact, it probably seems very left field to many readers), but it's worth pointing out not only as something literally interesting to contemplate, but to show the kind of storytelling depth that is contained in Mystic River--a film you should not miss.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Your bitter reviewer walked into the theater with high expectations, I had to beg my fiancee to see this, promising her the masterpiece that the hype said it was. It was, to put it gently, not as good as an average episode of "Law and Order". The characters that weren't overdone or hopeless cliches (e.g. Celeste) were given no consistent motivations or satisfactory explanations for their actions (Jimmy, Sean). The movie waffles on the strength and extent of the boys friendship; Are they still friends? If so, do Dave and Sean know that Jimmy is a small time mafioso? Is all of Boston related to each other, at least six of the major and minor characters are cousins, including Jimmy and Dave (by marriage I assume) yet supposedly they barely know each other anymore. Celeste was a horrible character, first the whole film she looked like she'd scream and cry if her kid or anyone else sneezed. Then she sells out her husband to Jimmy, someone who will most likely at least beat him within an inch of his life if not kill him and then sells JIMMY out to Sean after the situation she brought about has climaxed. This is not a woman you want to go hunting with. And the murderers, where do I begin? Sean said they HAD NO MOTIVE. This is bad writing. They just wanted to play tough guys and the random passerby, the victim, just HAPPENS to be his brother's girlfriend and not only that, the daughter of the hood that his father ratted out when he was most likely two and sent up for a stretch. The kid had no way of knowing, and I give the movie credit for not suggesting it, that Jimmy murdered his father. To top it all off, if this was a random act and an accident that she died, why did they abuse the body? Like I said, bad writing. Kevin Bacon's last five minutes in the movie is on repeat somewhere in actors and filmmakers Hell. He goes from hearing about his friend's death, someone he obviously feels indebted to, to laughing and smiling on the phone to his creepy, stalking wife. He follows this gem with the "finger gun" during the parade with a bizarre smirk on his face. Methinks making movies like "Wild Things" has damaged the acting center of his brain. This movie is nothing what critics or the hype said it would be, there are better films by all these actors and this director, both in front of and behind the camera. Go rent those. Movies like this make orphans cry.
I must admit that when i watched this movie for the first time i didn't
really think that much of it. Sure the acting was amazing, but that was
expected. But then something happened. I got a chance to read the book
by Dennis Lehane and suddenly all the pieces fell into place. I watched
the movie again and this time it was amazing.
I don't know how i should interpret how my feelings toward this movie changed after reading the book. Is it a good adaptation if i like it more after reading the book? Should a movie stand so well on it's own merits that the book is not necessary? I don't know myself, all i know is that it all became so much clearer after reading the book.
First of all the acting was amazing even the first time around. But still, after reading the book it was as if the characters gained one more level of depth. I have always felt that Tim Robbins is the true gem in this movie. His pained portrayal of the lost soul Dave Boyle is pure magic, seldom has an Oscar been so well deserved. Sean Penn is predictably great in his portrayal of Jimmy Markum. It's a difficult character, a person you really don't know what to think about. In one respect he is a worried father, in another respect he is a cold-blooded man with few things to like about him. The rest of the cast is solid, with Kevin Bacon the brightest star among them.
When it comes to the plot itself this was where much was changed from reading the book. The trick is not to watch this as a crime-drama. Rather it's a movie about behavioral patterns, about humans. What they are capable of and what dictates their actions. There are huge amounts of sadness and melancholy to this story. Of people unable to break out of the path it seems life has chosen for them. This i think didn't really break through to me that well when i watched the movie for the first time. But the book is much more clear on this and when i watched the movie again i saw it there as well.
In the end this is a triumph of two things really. First the great acting of some of the finest actors in Hollywood today, second the sensitive and thoughtful directing of Clint Eastwood. He manages to bring out Dennis Lehanes story in a way that is so understated and minimalistic at times i didn't even catch on the first time around. But if i look closely all the elements are there and it is truly a great adaptation as well as a great movie.
Twenty years ago, the boys Jimmy Markun, Sean Devine and Dave Boyle are
neighbors and pals, playing hockey on the street. One day, Dave is kidnapped
by two men, being sexually abused, but escapes from them four days later. In
the present days, each one of them followed one way in their lives: Jimmy
(Sean Penn) is married with Annabeth Markum (Laura Linney), has three
daughters and has a small business. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a detective, and
his pregnant wife left him six months ago. His colleague is the detective
Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne). And Dave (Tim Robbins) is a traumatized
man, married with Celeste Boyle (Marcia Gay Harden) and having a young son.
When the nineteen years old daughter of Jimmy, Katie Markum (Emmy Rossum),
is found dead in the neighborhood, the three friends in childhood meet each
other again, in the investigation of the murder. A tragic event happens in
the conclusion of this investigation. This movie is excellent. Yesterday, I
saw it on DVD and I was impressed with the direction of Clint Eastwood and
the performance of the cast. It is almost impossible to highlight one actor
or actress, but I was stunned with the performance of Sean Penn. It is a
film based on the acting, and not on special effects, shootings or race of
cars. I was very impressed, since the tragic story of the loss of the youth
is very real, full of human flaws, disturbances, prejudice and judgements.
The destiny of this movie in the future may be to be considered a
contemporary classic. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): `Sobre Meninos e Lobos' (`About Boys and Wolves')
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mystic River is being accepted in the U.S. as a serious, tragic tale of the terrible consequences of violence and abuse.
What it really is, is a manipulative revenge tale about the sensitive inner life of a vigilante murderer.
I was appalled by Laura Linney's big scene at the end where she praises the murderer for his kinglike qualities. I think it's in there not so much for its ironic 'Lady Macbeth' horror, as for its balancing effect on all those moviegoers who actually agree with her and see the Sean Penn character as flawed but heroic: a kinder, gentler Dirty Harry. There's a reason why the film makers eliminated a crucial moment from the book: In the book, the Kevin Bacon character promises the Marcia Gay Harden character that he will prove that the Sean Penn character committed murder and that he will prosecute him for it. Instead, Eastwood plays it cozy, leaving the legal consequences of the vigilantism ambiguous, just in case his core audience happens to think that what Sean Penn's character did was wrong, maybe, but understandable and justified. And after all, who got hurt? Just some loser pervert, right? Or as the film describes him, "damaged goods".
What a load of horse manure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The nauseating accolades that this monstrous movie has received just
prove that Hollywood does its job very well. Throw in some brilliant
actors, clever cinematography, a melodramatic score and an iconic
director, and voilà - suspension of disbelief - of good sense - of
morality itself. Perhaps it is the result of playing in too many
Westerns in which there is no rule of law. Mr. Eastwood, for whom I had
the greatest respect UNTIL I saw this film, seems to advocate a return
to those times when we settled our differences with our guns and with
I sat through the bleak, depressing story, realizing that there was going to be no "Happy Hollywood Ending." But I was totally unprepared for one that completely exonerated the most foul deeds of the even more unsanitary characters. And that speech at the end by Laura Linney just served to sink the depths of the female characters to subterranean levels. Marcia Gay Harden's character, however, previously did much of the sinking when she literally put a contract out on her husband's life by telling her totally unfounded suspicions to the murdering thug played by Sean Penn.
Brilliant acting notwithstanding an accolade that is also debatable except in the case of Tim Robbins how can a movie that validates violence, murder, selfishness, lack of responsibility and consequences, be given any awards of any kind???? What kind of society are we, if we can become so dazzled by Clint Eastwood and his chosen actors that we miss the gaping hole where the film's moral center should be???? Or rather than absence, the film's moral center is one that is so amoral that it should be equally impossible to miss. Yet miss it so many of us have done.
If the intent of the movie was to shock us into outrage at the gross miscarriage of justice perpetrated at the end of the film, at the utter lack of sensitivity that the characters demonstrate towards the victims, then I would praise it as one of the best films of all time. But the message I received was not one so enlightened. And the utter horror of the amoral message as well as of the blindness and/or acceptance of most of the public totally undermined any redemption that might otherwise have been found in the dramatization by Tim Robbin's character of the long-lasting and wide-ranging effects of child molestation. His young friends did not protect him as a boy. They compounded this failing as adults. And we, the public, abandon him in like manner, when we honor those who would dishonor and destroy him.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most murder mysteries go the way of unleashing tension and a mounting
sense of suspense and danger as the plot originating from the murder in
itself reveals red herrings and a more sinister plot underneath just
waiting to be discovered.
Clint Eastwood's thriller goes a completely different direction: while the identity of the killer is still at the center of the story and is revealed in almost surprising -- but plausible -- sequence, this is more a powerful character study of three childhood friends joined together by the very horror of a life extinguished. All three actors make their roles their own -- Sean Penn is quietly intense and devastated, Tim Robbins is the ultimate broken man through circumstances not of his control who still relives his own tragedy every day, and Kevin Bacon plays a stoic detective who also has some relationship issues of his own.
If there's one weakness in the movie it's the way the women are written. While Marcia Gay Harden fares better in her portrayal of a housewife who discovers what she believes to be a deadly secret involving her husband (Tim Robbins), Laura Linney, while being strong in her own role, is a little underwritten throughout and her sudden change at the end is a little inexplicable though chilling and recalls Lady MacBeth's speeches towards MacBeth.
A very bleak take on the notion that some people never learn from the mistakes they make in life and how those mistakes come back to rip their own life apart in the most subtle of ways, one of the most emotionally dark movies of 2003 and completely deserving of its Oscar wins (for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, a feat repeated in this years Oscars for 2004) and nods.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WARNING!! MAJOR SPOILERS!!
I don't know what the movie was supposed about. I liked the first three-fourths of it, but I cannot recommend it. I think it is full of logical inconsistencies, especially involving the characters.
Take the Kevin Bacon character: At one point, he tells his partner Laurence Fishburne that he will put the cuffs on his friend faster than Fishburne will if his friend (Tim Robbins) is guilty. This establishes him as a guy who puts duty above friendship. So why does he not arrest Sean Penn at the end of the movie when he knows Penn killed Robbins? Either he does his duty or he doesn't.
Take Fishburne's character: What happens to him at the end of the movie? Where is he? He would be the first to investigate the missing Robbins character, whom we know is killed by Penn. Somebody would be investigating his disappearance. Is it just an unsolved murder or disappearance?
Penn's character: He gets established as a loving, caring father who went straight after serving time because he loved his daughter. We see him say to his daughter's picture something like `I know I contributed to your death but I don't know how.' He is by himself, so that should be an indication of a caring, thoughtful guy, which, to me, he turns out not to be by the end of the movie. He is cold and ruthless. In movies, when we are shown characters doing something alone, it is an indication of what they truly are. That is like a contract the movie makes with us. He also knows that Robbins was abused as a kid. Yet he kills Robbins based only on circumstantial evidence. Robbins's wife thinks that he killed Penn's daughter. But Penn has got to be smart enough to want more evidence. Then he kills Robbins in front of 3 guys who will be surely grilled and leaned on by the cops because it is well known they associate with him. A bartender also saw them all together. And Penn would have to know he was a prime suspect. Wouldn't a guy like Penn be shrewder? Wouldn't he late till later, and have it done when he has an alibi?
Robbins's wife, Marcia Gay Harden: She seems to be a pathetic character by the end of the movie. At first she seems caring, consoling Penn's wife after the murder. But she suspects her husband murdered Penn's daughter and tells Penn and not the police. Who is that dumb? Did she not want her husband to get a fair trial?
Laura Linney's character: She is Penn's wife. We don't see her or get much sense of her until the end of the movie. Then, as others have said, she turns out to be Lady Macbeth. She tells her husband Penn that it is good that you do what you have to for your family. Why could that not simply mean turning Robbins over to the police? She then tells this cold-blooded mobster of a husband that he could run Boston!! Then they roll over on the bed and have sex?!?! Only cold, ruthless people do that. Why should I care about them?
Coincidences: Robbins just happens to kill a guy molesting a child the same night Penn's daughter is accidentally killed? And Robbins just happened to be in the last bar that Penn's daughter was in? And Penn kills Robbins just before Kevin Bacon's character, a cop, tells Penn he has the real killers? These seem like very cheap plot devices. Too improbable to be believed. How about Penn and Bacon? They end up being very awful guys, yet they were not the one abducted or molested. Sure it happened to their friend. But it is too much to believe they would be so affected.
The characters for most of the movie seemed sympathetic. But at the end, none of them, except possibly for Robbins's character that got into a car as a child with a child molester who pretended to be a cop (Penn and Bacon were there, too but did not get in) are sympathetic at the end of the movie. Penn gets back together with his estranged wife and seems to be happy with his life, so why bother investigating the murder of his friend Robbins even though he knows Penn killed him? YUK. At a parade, he makes his hand look like a gun and gives a sort of fake POW! pointed at Penn, like you're the man buddy. Or this is as much as I will do to you. And we see Penn surrounded by two or three of his thug henchman. Penn seems to have no remorse for killing Robbins. Linney gives Harden a sort of so what look, I don't care what happened to you. Harden walks around looking very sad and pathetic. Penn and Bacon don't seem to care how sad Robbins's son must be. We can see how sad he is a float with other little leaguers. There seems to be no reason why we should care about the characters played by Bacon, Harden, Penn or Linney. They are all despicable and unlikable people.
And it is not okay somehow that Robbins is dead because he killed a child molester, either. If I were on a jury trying Robbins for that murder, it would be hard to give him the death penalty. The movie seems to be saying that was some sort of justice that he got killed. Yet his murder of the molester was not premeditated like Penn's murder of him was. Or the conscious decision of Bacon to be okay with Penn killing Robbins. And the way Penn killed Robbins is brutal, painful and demeaning. Penn treats him in a very mean spirited way. The movie seems to be saying this is okay. Again, YUK.
After a while, one has come to expect mediocrity from Clint Eastwood.
"Blood Work" "Space Cowboys" and "Sudden Impact" all shining examples
of this. But what he has here is true; sophisticated, intricate and
rewarding. Viewing is definitely recommended.
Three boys, Dave (Tim Robbins) Jimmy (Sean Penn) and Sean (Kevin Bacon) are reunited after the murder of Jimmy's nineteen year-old daughter. Immediately, a whodunit case arrives. Sounds average, dunnit?...
No. It's much more than average. What might appear as a normal murder mystery is more. The acting, particularly from Robbins and Penn, is immaculate. Robbins is still recovering from child sexual abuse along time ago. Penn, so realistically and amazingly, mourns over the loss of his daughter. Laurence Fishburne (playing cop Whitey) is as smart talking as ever, whilst Kevin Bacon gives a solid performance as the homicide cop investigating the case.
Though the film becomes a bit uneven towards the end, this tough, brutal and uncompromising; but still, a masterpiece, and the best work Eastwood as done in years.
Final Analysis: 9 out of 10
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