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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forget about the (stupid) ending. Even technically this film was a
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.