In one of the more poignant moments of Mystic River
(and believe me, there were many poignant moments), Jimmy
Markum (Penn) sits in a cafeteria booth, being interrogated
by police officers for information relating to his daughter
Katie’s murder. After answering a few mundane questions, he
begins to deliberate—suppose he had been kidnapped and molested
as a child instead of his friend Dave. Then he would not have
had the confidence to approach a girl he liked, Katie would
not have been born, and she would not have been murdered.
Mystic River ponders the larger issue of how decisions
in the past reveal themselves in severe consequences later.
In a character-driven movie played by a talented cast, we
are drawn into the anguish, sadness, and desperation felt
by those connected to the murder.
The story begins when Jimmy, Sean, and Dave are young boys
playing hockey on the neighborhood streets of Boston. Two
men pretending to be cops take Dave away, and nothing is known
of him for four days. He manages to escape his kidnappers,
but when he returns, he is no longer the same innocent boy
he was before.
Twenty-five years pass. Jimmy, Sean (Bacon), and Dave
(Robbins) all seem to have resumed normal lives. However,
even without the benefit of watching the movie trailers beforehand,
it is apparent that something is about to happen. Conversations
are ominous, surprises keep the audience tense, and nothing
spectacular happens until it hits—the brutal
death of Jimmy’s 19-year-old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum).
In one sense, Mystic River is a murder mystery where
Massachusetts State Police officer Sean and his partner Sgt.
Whitey Powers (Fishburne) attempt to find Katie’s killer.
Like the officers, the audience mentally builds a list of
suspects and compares them to each clue as it’s revealed.
The other layer of the story is how this incident affects
the relationship dynamics of all those involved. A tension
develops between Dave and his wife Celeste (Harden)
regarding his shady behavior the night of Katie’s death. There
are issues of trust between longtime friends Dave and Jimmy.
Jimmy and wife Annabeth (Linney) must come to terms
with the death of their daughter.
As the movie progresses, focus on the characters zeroes in
on Jimmy, Sean, Dave, with the supporting characters stepping
back as their contribution to the emotional strain of the
story diminishes. Similarly, for the screenplay, writer Brian
Helgeland has taken Dennis Lehane’s novel of the
same name and pared it down to those elements most directly
involved with the three men. Episodes in the novel that detracted
from those three, such as the relationship between the younger
Dave and his father, were eliminated entirely.
The difficulty of adapting this novel was trying to capture
all the thoughts and the psychology of the characters for
an audience that can only observe from the outside. Director
Clint Eastwood and his crew have crafted a suspenseful
film that intelligently portrays real emotional characters
as well as a thought-provoking piece about the consequences
of the choices we make.