Mystic River (2003)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

MYSTIC RIVER (2003) - Clint Eastwood

The year is 1975, on a quiet Boston street. Three boys, Jimmy Markum, Sean Devine, and Dave Boyle are playing hockey, until they find a wet concrete square. Being troublemaking boys as they are, they decide to write their names on the concrete. When Dave is in the middle of writing his name, the three kids are interrupted by two men, pretending to be police officers. After falsely scolding the boys for their actions, the two men take Dave away. The film goes on to reveal that the two men were hebephiles and held Dave captive while sexually abusing him for four days, until he escaped into the woods.

Clint Eastwood's Mystic River begins with this childhood tragedy, then jumps twenty-five years into the future, where Jimmy (Sean Penn) is now a father of three daughters, the eldest being Katie (Emmy Rossum). Sean (Kevin Bacon) is now a cop, and Dave (Tim Robbins) is now married with a son and is still traumatized by his childhood incident. The film revolves around these three males who reunite once again when a new tragedy strikes: the murder of Katie. Sean is assigned to the case and begins to investigate, and Jimmy attempts to connect the dots on his own to track down the murderer.

Mystic River is the first film in 44 years to win both Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and it won both deservedly. Sean Penn delivers one of the greatest performances in his career, alongside his Oscar-nominated role in Dead Man Walking. Within the first half hour, Katie's death pins him down, as he is held back by cops, wanting to enter the park to see his daughter's body. As days pass, he wanders around his "once-familiar" house like a ghost, emotionless. For sure, a part of him has died with Katie. But once he brings up about his deceased daughter to other characters, his voice will slowly get shakier, as the camera inches closer and closer to his face. He will begin to cry, gasp for air, and have random pauses when he talks -- you might have trouble hearing what he's saying at that point too, with his voice. Penn brings out the most realistic responses and behaviors of a sorrowful father.

Tim Robbins' Dave, still traumatized, tries to fit back into society, being a good husband and father. But inevitably, things go out of place, and his head wanders in places that no other people would comprehend. Or worse, they might be places that no people would *want* to comprehend. Is Dave crazy? The answer is never clear. We are not sure and he is not sure either. As the investigation of Katie's murder progresses, Jimmy and Sean are both accumulating their suspicions. So are we.

In the film's present timeline, the premise sets the stage that these three males are never too close to each other. As a result, communication and trust start to twist and become unclear or distorted, messing with the audience's head. At this point, director Clint Eastwood has already gripped your interest; He sneaks up quietly with a small-scale event, then grabs you at the right moment to take you on his journey. With a sense of crime mystery throughout the second act, the narrative takes its steps slowly, revealing new information to the characters at crucial moments, proving that Eastwood is becoming more and more of a master at storytelling.

Without a doubt, Mystic River looks like a very simplistic low-budget film. The entire film takes place in a neighborhood, not a very pleasant one either. Seeing three amazing actors feeling their own miseries, all linked to the same tragedy in their past, is incredibly fascinating to watch. Furthermore, director Eastwood this time knows how to step back and let the story's characters take over. This is a film where we are meant to watch these three, listen to these three, and sympathize these three. To quote Roger Ebert, "Directors grow great by subtracting, not adding, and Eastwood does nothing for show, [but] everything for effect."

In conclusion, Mystic River is one of Eastwood's greatest films, if not the greatest. For sure, the film is humorless and is made to be haunting and hypnotic. In other words, it is made to stay in your head, as if you have experienced a tragedy yourself. Mystic River is frighteningly powerful, and once you revisit the image of Dave's half-carved name in the concrete, the harrowing power of the film's meaning kicks in, and resonates long after the film ends.

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