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Mystic River (R)
Warner Bros.
Official Site
Director: Clint Eastwood
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Judie Hoyt, Robert Lorenz
Written by: Brian Helgeland; from the novel by Dennis Lehane
Cast: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney

Rating: out of 5

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 hitsthe 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.

—Kelly Hsu


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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