Mystic River has all the makings of a big screen legend: a superstar director, experienced actors, an unsettling musical score and an even more disturbing plot.
After 25 years, three childhood friends — Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins) — reunite after Jimmy’s oldest daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum), is brutally murdered. Jimmy, an ex-con, wants to be the first to find his daughter’s killer. Sean and fellow detective Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) are placed in charge of the investigation and must find the murderer before Jimmy and his thugs. Meanwhile, Dave came home the night of the murder covered in blood telling his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) an unlikely story about being mugged and admitting that he may have killed the mugger. So the scene is set for a well-produced murder mystery.
Despite its length, Mystic River is an incredible film. It seems too drawn out at some points and seems to flash by too fast at others. The depiction of violence is more tasteful than many contemporary movies with the most shocking action not actually shown. Yet, what Eastwood does show is gruesomely realistic. The plot of the movie revolves around violent acts; therefore, the screen time allotted for the violence is extremely powerful. Eastwood’s direction evokes every dark emotion in the viewer’s mind from anger to grief.
The well-known cast that Eastwood has managed to put together for River is astonishing. The acting in the film is nothing short of astounding, the best performance coming from Penn. Robbins plays the emotionally scarred father perfectly, switching from quiet and introverted to compulsive and violent. Bacon’s acting is not his best offering. However, when you put all three characters together, Bacon’s mediocre performance can be overlooked. The interaction between them and other characters is a lesson on how traumatic experiences affect the human psyche.
The emotional deepness that Eastwood tries to explain with character development is extremely important to the validity of the film, although not all the characters are developed to their full extent. Rossum’s short amount of on-screen time as Katie is not wasted; her character shines, leaving a lasting impression before being murdered.
Katie’s boyfriend, Brendan (Tom Guiry), has many excellent scenes that depict the life of a youth from a troubled home who loses the girl he loves. The character of Jimmy’s wife, Annabeth (Laura Linney), is not developed until the later part of the film. Her Lady Macbeth qualities should be pointed out much earlier.
Despite a few minor flaws in the characters, the film achieves what it meant to do. Mystic River leaves a lasting impression of the haunting realities of human life. The film’s score reverberates through the theater, adding suspense to its slow conclusion. And the meticulous direction Eastwood uses shines through in every scene. Eastwood’s thoroughness, matched with the precision of actors portraying the characters thought up by writer Dennis Lehane (in his novel of the same title) makes for one of the best dramas this year.