I mean seriously. Sean Penn won an Oscar for this, when he made 21 Grams in the same year? What the hell is that about? Tim Robbins didn't convince me. It took me a good half an hour to pick up on the fact that his character was supposed to be a bit 'slow' and there were no subtleties in his physical stance to indicate this. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne gave standard good cop/bad cop routine acting, but neither reached the potential that they've shown in other movies. Marcia Gay Harden is an actress that I find tolerable at best normally - but in this movie her face had the same expression in nearly every scene, particularly the first half. It was like 'Oh I'm a bit confused'... and a few minutes later 'Yep... still confused'. On the contrary, Laura Linney is an actress that I have the hugest respect and admiration for, not least because I feel she is without a doubt the most IMPROVED actress in our current climate (check out her performance in 'Primal Fear' and then compare it to her performances in 'You Can Count On Me' or 'Love, Actually' to see what I mean). However, Linney is underused completely - and at the end she is given a big scene to do that you think might lead onto something bigger but.... no. It's nothing.
I blame the acting on the director. When you get a group of consistently good actors (Marcia Gay Harden excepted, in my meek opinion) and put them together there should be some magic there. But there's no spark from a single one of them in my eyes. Todd Field's directing of his actors in 'In The Bedroom' three years ago, managed to get some incredibly drawn performances from Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei that are not even gone near in this movie. And it's all Clint Eastwood's fault.
The story itself is so generic it's not even worth going into. Girl is killed. A few of the characters are suspects. The murder is resolved, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste, for certain reasons that I won't state here.
The resolution in particular is very messy. The movie seems to be searching for a place to end for the last couple of minutes... we get silly shots of Harden and Linney's eyes meeting followed by Penn and Bacon's eyes meeting... and it all feels painfully contrived as a way to end the movie, but without knowing how to.
I had been looking forward to this movie in a big way. It was seen as one of the three 'serious drama' movies at the 2004 Academy Awards, but in my opinion both '21 Grams' and 'House Of San & Fog' stand miles above it.