Mystic River Review

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by mithrandir, Nov 3, 2003.

  1. mithrandir

    mithrandir Gentleman Scholar

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    Mystic River
    Directed By: Clint Eastwood
    Starring: Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins
    Rated: R for language and some violence

    To look at the cast and director of this film, you’d think there wasn’t much that could go wrong. And, in some ways, you probably won’t be disappointed with Mystic River if that is your initial response as mine was. At the same time, there are some definite problems with this film that so overshadow the good, the end is more a disappointment.

    Mystic River opens with three young boys (Sean, Jimmy and Dave) playing street hockey. After losing their ball in the storm drain, they decide to etch their names in some nearby fresh sidewalk cement. A plainclothes policeman happens to drive by and catches them in the act. After scolding the boys, he forces Dave into his car to take him home. Unfortunately, this man isn’t an officer, but a child molester. Dave eventually escapes and returns home, but this experience is one that will haunt him later.

    Cut 20 or so years ahead. The boys are grown and have their own lives. Dave (Tim Robbins) is married with a son of his own and is a simple laborer. Sean (Kevin Bacon) works as a homicide detective and is currently estranged from his wife. Jimmy (Sean Penn) has three daughters and is the neighborhood don – making his living by controlling criminal activities in the area and running a local convenience store. Jimmy’s oldest daughter, unbeknownst to him, is planning to run away to Las Vegas with her boyfriend to get married. She goes out for one last night on the town with her friends, but never returns home. Her body is found the next day having died from blunt head trauma and gunshot wounds. Sean and his partner get the case and start the official inquiry. However, Jimmy is not content to wait for the police and brings in his goons to start his own investigation into the affair. To complicate the story further, Dave actually saw Jimmy’s daughter the night of her murder and he comes home very late with a good size gash across his chest and bloodied knuckles. He tells his wife that he was attacked by a mugger, but it’s clear that he’s covering something up. To go into more detail would require revealing more of the story than you should really know going in. The tension comes from questions about whether Dave is guilty and if so, why he would kill this young girl.

    The cast here is pretty strong overall. Tim Robbins seems to churn out one good performance after another and this one is also quite good. Sean Penn’s performance is also good though he plays a smaller role. Kevin Bacon rounds out the performers with a solid effort though nothing stellar. The supporting cast (mostly wives of the 3 leads or their children) turns in some good efforts as well.

    Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else I liked about Mystic River. My biggest issue was the pacing. At times I felt the film was never going to go anywhere. There are nearly incomprehensible flashbacks to Dave’s childhood encounter, some overlong police discussions, and several periods where I found myself looking at my watch wondering how much longer this film was going to be. Perhaps Mr. Eastwood was attempting to build mood, or a sense of tragedy, but it didn’t work for me. It just felt slow.

    Close behind the pacing, and perhaps related, is the editing. There are a number of these long establishing shots as the camera flies in across the river and into the neighborhood, or through the woods, etc. The problem is these shots serve no purpose and certainly not in the middle of the film. There is at least one that I’d swear had to be a mistake as it had nothing to do with what come before it or after it. Just 20 seconds of filler in what felt like an already too long film.

    SPOILERS –DON’T READ THIS PARAGRAPH UNLESS YOU WANT THE MYSTERY REVEALED
    The plot also bothered me a good deal for a couple of reasons. The first was that so much time was spent trying to build tension and suspicion against Dave, but you know right from the start that he isn’t guilty. Yeah, he’s hiding something, but he isn’t the culprit in this case. What makes this so annoying is that when the actual killer is revealed, you find yourself scratching your head. There is nothing presented that would even make you suspect the killer – he is barely in the film at all in fact. When writing a mystery, you MUST present enough information that even if you don’t guess who it was, you can see the clues that make it make sense when you look back. Not true in this film. The killer and his relationship to the story is simply non-existent until the very end. Likewise, I didn’t buy the sudden shift in Dave’s drastic character that is so key to his being a suspect. Here is guy who was molested a child, but reacts as if he forgot the entire experience for the last 20 years and then suddenly it all comes one night due to an odd circumstance. Sure, I can see him being emotionally damaged, but I can’t believe he has a wife and child and an apparently good family life without having dealt with all this stuff before. There was also not enough explained about these boys who became men. Dave and Sean especially seem to have had an important part of their relationship cut from the film. They both claim that to other characters that they aren’t “friends”, while both are friendly with Jimmy. Why? It doesn’t make sense and isn’t explained. Finally, I seriously question the end of this film. Jimmy murders Dave (thinking he’s guilty) and everyone knows it. But his wife tells him how wonderful he is and praises Daddy’s resolve to their daughters. Sean, doesn’t report it to the police or arrest him as he confesses it. And Dave’s family, the “good guys” if you will, who have been so supportive through this whole affair just get screwed. It’s very sad and I guess meant to be, but it just doesn’t work. It’s heavy handed and unbelievable.
    END SPOILERS

    In summary, Mystic River has some fine performances from the stars and supporting cast. However, the plot was slow to develop, overly manipulative – too much to be believable – and plain unfair to the audience. Perhaps its just the normal problem in bringing book to screen, but it makes for a most tedious and frustrating experience in this case.

    I give Mystic River 2 stars of 5.