Eastwood's Mighty Penn
Clint Eastwood is a man who has shown that he is as equally adept behind the camera as he is in front of it, as is the case of "Mystic River" a powerhouse movie which Eastwood stamps his authority on making it an atmospheric blend of murder mystery, cop thriller and most importantly character study. Although I have never read Dennis Lehane's novel on which the movie is based, I have heard that Brian Helgeland's script remains close to the story, something which is unusual when adaptations are made. But what makes "Mystic River" stand out is that it is powerful from start to finish, well almost, with 3 knock out performances from Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon as well as Tim Robbins and a story line which deals with crime, punishment and guilt in such a manner that it feels different to others which tread the crime, cop genres.
During the summer of 1975, Dave Boyle and his friends Jimmy and Sean are playing on the pavement of their Boston neighbourhood when Dave is taken by two men pretending to be cops and subjected to sexual abuse for several days till he manages to escape. Haunted by his childhood trauma into adulthood, Dave (Tim Robbins - Arlington Road) now finds himself a suspect when Jimmy's (Sean Penn - The Game) eldest daughter Katie is discovered murdered. Sean (Kevin Bacon - Hollow Man) now a homicide detective finds himself caught in a tough place when assigned the case as the three estranged childhood friends face the demons from their past as well as those affecting them now, especially as Jimmy an ex-con has vowed to find the killer before the cops.
Right from the start it is apparent that "Mystic River" is going to be more than your average crime thriller, giving us layers of background to the trio of characters before the main thrux of the movie begins. It's this background depth, the closeness between these three men despite having gone their separate ways which makes the movie so much more, in many ways a little similar to the equally atmospheric "Sleepers".
Even when the main part of the movie starts, the murder of Jimmy's daughter and the hunt for her killer, there is more to this than your formulaic thriller, thanks to the bond between the three men. But also because between Helgeland's script and Eastwood's direction it leads you on an intriguing journey drawing you into the story pointing to the obvious with always an undercurrent that maybe it's not so simple. It is the way it not so much keeps you guessing but questioning the way the storyline is leading you and more importantly it doesn't restrain itself from delivering shocks, the unexpected that you never get in a commercial movie.
One of the things which makes "Mystic River" stand out is the atmosphere which Clint Eastwood attains neither too dark or light, more ominous that something wrong could happen at anytime, keeping you on your toes. But it is also the sadness that he conveys, not only for Jimmy over the murder of his daughter but from that fateful day when their lives changed. You really get a sense that what happened when they were children has haunted each and everyone of them since and in some ways making them into the people they had become.
It's also the fact that "mystic River" is lead by three strong characters which makes it feel different from the norm. When something happens you see how it impacts on each of their lives and it is this which helps draw you into the lives of these three men and how the strange bond they share still affects them.
But it is Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum which really stands out, delivering a performance uncannily like one from Robert De Niro but still making it unique, making it Penn and not an imitation. The amount of emotion Penn delivers through out the movie is remarkable from the love he has for his daughter, the loyalty to his friends and the sheer grief as well as rage when his daughter is murdered is not just staggering but captivating. You really get a sense especially in the scenes shortly after the discovery of his daughter's body that this is a man who has had his heart ripped out and is in inner turmoil between grieving and getting revenge for her death.
Alongside Penn you have two other knockout performances from Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon, although they are more restrained emotionally and understandably than that of Penn's. Robbins who many site "The Shawshank Redemption" as his greatest movie really delivers a performance which shows how Dave has become emotionally withdrawn due to the events of his past and obviously the haunting aspect of those childhood days are displayed more through Dave than the other characters. It's a subdued performance which delivers more from being so, being slightly neutered than what you would generally expect. In many ways the same can be said for Kevin Bacon as Sean who struggles to remain emotionally detached from the situation with his friends. There are moments when you can see that his personal feelings creep in to his professional life making it a very real performance rather than just a generic detective.
It is very much the performances from Penn, Robbins and Bacon which make "Mystic River" special but they are assisted by some perfectly honed supporting performances from the likes of Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Guiry as well as minor part for Eli Wallach. Each of them make there characters more than 2 dimensional bit parts without encroaching on the movie, giving it that extra depth that makes it even more than just a three way character study.
Having enthused about all which is good about "Mystic River" it does have a flaw and that is it doesn't no when to stop. There is a perfect ending for the movie but for some unknown reason it is followed by a further two scenes which although don't exactly spoil the movie could have easily been left on the cutting room floor as all they do is act as padding. But that is really it, there is very little else wrong with "Mystic River" and even the dialogue is it has to be said brilliant, honest and often with a feeling of natural rawness.
What this all boils down to is that once again that with "Mystic River" Clint Eastwood has shown what a strong director he is, helped in many ways by the powerful script from Brian Helgeland. Not only does he manage to get one of Sean Penn's finest performances he manages to create an atmosphere which lifts "Mystic River" above being just another cop/crime/thriller turning it into it has to be said a surprisingly touching character study. Trust me when I say that "Mystic River" will live long on in your memory after you have seen it.