Mystic River (2003)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Title (Brazil): `Sobre Meninos e Lobos' (`About Boys and Wolves')
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.
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.
The best thing about this film is how most everyone kind of 'expects' the Tim Robbins character to be found guilty and is surprised in the end. The fact that the writer makes 'Dave' actually complicit and responsible for _another_ murder does not wash with me as a sort of way of saying 'Well, he deserved what he had coming to him' as is insidiously and mischievously implied. It seems like a cop-out to me.
The bottom line is that Sean Penn's character brutally murders his childhood friend based on hearsay and the third friend, played by Kevin Bacon, suggests he will just look the other way even though it's pretty clear he knows Penn did it. And he's a cop!
So what the f*ck is going on with the little speech Penn's character's wife gives at the end of the film? "You could be the king of this town?" Maybe true, but also clear is the fact that he's going to be eaten by his demons in the process.
And all of this is OK? Watching the freaking parade stand murderers and friends side by side? Being guilty of murder is OK as long as you atone for it? Let's put our attention and hopes on the next generation?
Am I the only one to find this to be a bunch of crap?
I know that "critics" are in love with sean penn but for me his character was completely unbelievable, one minute he is uncontrollable with grief but then while verifying the body he is cold as a fish, hamming it up the whole movie.
Not worth the 4.50 for the rental
The end message from this film seems to be that it's OK to kill people. Obviously that's a gross simplification, but that's the feeling I'm left with. All of the main characters and most of the supporting ones are fairly hateful disgusting people. This is bleak stuff.
The one character you believe is OK, Sean, the cop, turns out in the end to have apparently protected his friend Tommy from an earlier murder charge, and seems to let him get away with a second murder of Dave, their mutual friend.
Sure, most of the performances are pretty good, although Sean Penn as usual isn't entirely convincing. Watching this move up until the very end I had hope that it was going to turn out OK, but no, the credits rolled and the guilty walked free, because apparently it's OK to kill somebody that you suspect (with no real evidence) of having killed your child. So long as you act strong everything will be OK. Another child is left without a father, a wife without a husband, and there are no consequences for this. What utter tripe.
A final scene or two at the end with Tommy getting arrested would have fixed this movie and made it into something great. Even him getting run over by a random passing car would have been an improvement. Instead I'm left feeling sick, and wanting Mr. Eastwood to give me my $6 rental fee back for subjecting me to such tripe.
This movie was well acted and well directed. I will never forget Sean Penn's portrayal of Jimmy in this star ensemble cast.
The Hollywood buzz about this movie is that it's gonna win a lot of Academy Awards. The real reason behind the buzz is that (1) all the right stars are in the flick (e.g., how many degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon? Can you get more P.C. than Penn, Robbins, and Linney?) and (2) the morally ambiguity of the film gives it that cachet of being 'intellectual,' 'edgy,' and 'pushing boundaries' (translation: the same old trash). It all boils down to being in tune with political fashion. P.T. Barnum was right. This film is gonna clean up at the Oscars.
Okay, so I'll have to admit that the acting wasn't bad. Problem is that there were no characters for the actors to work with. I really didn't care about any of these folks because they had no endearing traits and and there weren't any substantial relationships between them... basically just a bunch of selfish low-lifes. Even Sean the cop (Kevin Bacon) was basically an amoral loser.
Now, liking or at least identifying with the characters builds interest in the film, but also makes us care about them, so that the emotion flows naturally out of the film. Mr. Eastwood compensates for the lack of natural emotion by employing the typical manipulative Hollywood histrionics. For example, we're supposed to Feel for Jimmy (Sean Penn)when he finds out that his (floozy) daughter Katie is dead. Problem: Jimmy's a two-bit jerk of a thug with an overworked Boston accent and we've only seen him with his daughter for 5 seconds: who COULD care about him or his daughter? Solution: Have him bawling and struggling against a cadre of cops to see his daughter's corpse; swell the Operatic Music; pull the camera back and overhead to give a sense of The Enormity of his loss. Voila! Instant emotion! This was just one of several examples in which the direction was so overblown I couldn't help but think that Mr. Eastwood had no concept of real emotion.
Even worse than the screenplay and direction was the soundtrack. Throughout the whole film the word that kept coming to me about the music was "incongruous"; it basically almost never fit with the film (I guess that makes it edgy?). The final credits reveal that Mr. Eastwood, that man for all seasons, wrote the score. I could have guessed the writer was an amateur; now I also know he was an egoist.
There even seemed to be problems with continuity. The mother of Katie's boyfriend Brendan tells her son that he's better off without her. A couple scenes later Brendan's deaf brother apparently repeats this same comment to him and Brendan acts as if he's surprised and shocked that she said it! Also, in the climatic scene we learn the identity and motive of the killer. In the following scene, Sean gives Jimmy an entirely different motive for the killing. Maybe I'm just dense and maybe Sean had a reason for obfuscating, but I didn't see it. (POSSIBLE SPOILER: If the first motive was right, how did the killer track down Katie so efficiently? If the second motive was the true one: wasn't it just too incredible a coincidence that, of all the people in Boston, the killer just HAPPENS upon that one particular person?)
Of course, after Sean's conversation with Jimmy, Sean's estranged wife finally calls and talks to him--out of the blue! Why? Explanation: the story needed a sense of victory at that point, and since the plot itself didn't provide it, well, we'll just tack on some portable catharsis!
Others who've reviewed this film liked the 'surprise' scene near the end between Penn and Laura Linney. I thought it stank. This Revelation about Linney's character was out of the blue. I guess we're supposed to chalk it up to Surprise Ending. In reality it's just bad writing: a real surprise is when, looking back, you should have and could have known, but just didn't put the pieces together, for example, _The Usual Suspects_ and _The Sixth Sense_. This scene just had NOTHING to do with the rest of the film!
**Potential SPOILER (heck, the whole film's a spoiler)** Also, Dave (Robbins) was apparently the scapegoat for all the bad things that happened in the film. (Perhaps 'pincushion' is better?) Poor bastard. And to top it off, I just didn't give a tinker's dam about poor Dave! He was a complete loser from start to finish: he had no redeeming qualities, his wife didn't love him and neither did his "friends." If the film is supposed to Make Us Think, it would have done more effectively if the audience actual felt a loss when Dave got it (again). **END SPOILER**
The rule of thumb is that if you have a great screenplay you just MIGHT get a good film. The bottom line on this film: THE SCREENPLAY SUCKED. And even great direction (which it didn't have) couldn't have redeemed this film.
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.
However the man is not a cop, he is a child molester/sadist and has taken him to rape and quite possibly later murder. However, several horrific days later, the boy escapes to freedom - nevertheless what happened to him and the two others will never leave them. It marks every day of the rest of their lives: and for Dave (the kidnapped boy) the wounds run very deep in to his flesh.
I am frightened of saying it, but Clint Eastwood is now America's best director: and not only that, he is one of the bravest. This is not the most obvious film. Dark, mean and giving little security blanket to hang on to. Thankfully he has assembled the best cast anyone could ask for and all three co-leads (the three street boys that go on to be men - Sean Penn (Jimmy), Tim Robins (Dave) and Kevin Bacon (Sean)) are excellent. Also worth a mention is Laurence Fishburne as a laconic black cop with a firm but fair attitude.
This film is not really much about women nor is it flattering to them. The later actions of Dave's wife (Marcia Gay Harden) make little sense on any level unless clues lie on unfilmed pages of the Dennis Lehane novel. Further discussion of it would be a spoiler.
The plot could (falsely) read as a whodunit or thriller: Jimmy's (an ex-con who now runs an convenience store) daughter is murdered and two main suspects quickly emerge. A boyfriend who was about to elope with her and the former abused boy Dave who had seen the girl behaving slightly wildly in a bar on the night she was killed. To make things worse Dave had come home late with a stab wound from that very night - he was "stabbed by a mugger," so he says, but the cover story makes no sense.
To complicate things further Sean (Bacon) is now a cop on this very case with female problems of his own. Thankfully they are mostly off screen because this film has enough problems for several movies. He is no longer open friends with Jimmy, but clearly he is viewed as more than just an ex-con trying to make good.
People that have read the book say that it remains true to its pages and that maybe is the reason why things happen slowly and the end is not an absolute full stop. The thriller part of exercise creaks like an old door because we have to believe that the Dave incident was a giant coincidence or he was - somehow - involved. And if so, why?
I was intrigued as to why the three central characters should stay loyal to the area. What keeps them? Especially Dave who everyone views as damaged goods and not a crime victim. Even his own wife. As I said before, Jimmy runs a store (where did he get the money - from crime?) but has a criminal past and maybe even a criminal future if some of the people he is around are anything to go by. This is not a film that believes in total revelation.
I am also puzzled by when the "present day" is meant to be. There is confusion about whose blood was found in a certain place which would have been solved easily by DNA examination. They talk only of blood groups.Hmmm...
Despite its many faults this is serious and skillful film making and while I agree with another reviewer - that television does this kind of the thing better - that isn't to say that this isn't a welcome addition to the cannon of believable (in outline form) street drama involving imperfect people trying to make the best of things in very difficult circumstances.
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
I had heard mixed things about this film before I saw it but I wanted to see it on the strength of the cast and the director's names. The plot starts with a horrid scene of abduction which, while far from graphic, has a sense of foreboding about it that is very unnerving. After this the film jumps forward and we are led into a detective story that touches on the past and how it affects our lives today. The connections are sometimes very poorly delivered for example the whole affair relating to Sean's wife is just out there and never really understood in the context of the film. Likewise a lot of the other connections seem to be an afterthought to the main detective story I haven't read the book but I got the impression a lot of it had been crammed into a short time with mixed results.
The end of the film itself exposes the uncertainty the themes are mixed. Jimmy's wife's speech is confusing in it's intent, Sean's reaction (both the happy conversation and `finger gun' gesture) is inexplicable the ending seems to wipe clean the lives of these two characters, although the regret and loss of Dave's wife is shattering in how it is portrayed. Where the film is strongest is in the characters they keep the story moving and are a good mix of personalities. Sean is the least well explained but is still a good solid character when you ignore his subplot.
Bacon is sort of the main character of the three as he drives the investigation, he is given good support by Fishburne who I was able to stop seeing as Morpheus after about 5 minutes. Penn is a great actor but he isn't a great fan of `everything in moderation' and he gets very hammy at times. At one point in the film he is surrounded by a group of policemen and howling at the moon with grief if you get the dvd and freezeframe it you can clearly see that Penn's shirt cufflinks are actual bits of bacon because he is just a big slice of ham! For the majority of the film he is actually very good, but at key moments he steps up way too much. Much better due to his underplaying, is Robbins. His character is much more difficult and I suspect that the least he will receive for this is a nomination for best supporting actor. Of the women, Harden stands out. Although her character is a little hard to grasp in terms of motivation, her performance is powerful. Linney is good but has less to do until near the end.
The direction is very solid full of majestic sweeps and nice shots. The music is a little overwrought; as if the film needed the music to do the emotional work for it. The one thing that bothered me is that Eastwood clearly sees this as his next Oscar he has a worthy, depressing film and fills it with worthy/grand shots with the intent of being worthy enough for the Oscar. I did get the feeling that his heart was as much into getting the Oscar as it was in making a film for it's own sake.
Overall this is a quality film, but it is a flawed quality film. It aspires to much but much of what it wants is just outside of it's grasp. It is worth seeing as a film driven by good characters painted large by very good actors.
While this same plot if directed properly could have ended up as a fabulous movie with elements of irony and dark humor, Clint Eastwood fails to capture anything but disgusting acts of pointless violence.
I took a date to see this movie in theaters and haven't been that disgusted and embarrassed in a long time.