Wednesday 29 February 2012

Movie Review: Mystic River (2003)

The story of a grisly murder that reawakens a horrific childhood calamity, Mystic River is a grand tragedy and a spectacular film. Clint Eastwood directs the drama with the ever simmering tension of unfinished business, and a magnetic and exceptionally deep cast delivers excellent performances.

In a working class Boston neighbourhood, three boys playing street hockey are interrupted by a predator who drives up their street, pretending to be a police officer. Two of the boys, the tough Jimmy and street smart Sean, talk their way out of trouble; the more innocent Dave is bundled into the car, abducted, held captive and sexually abused for four days before finally escaping.

Twenty five years later Dave (Tim Robbins) is married to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and has a young boy of his own. Dave has a lumbering, uncomfortable personality, still very much carrying the scars of the abuse he suffered as a child. Jimmy (Sean Penn) appears to have put a life of crime behind him and is now married to Annabeth (Laura Linney). Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the only one of the three to have moved out of the old neighbourhood, and he is now a police detective, recently and inexplicably abandoned by his wife.

Jimmy's teenage daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is shot and then killed by mysterious assailants; on the same night Dave returns home soaked with blood and claiming that he had to kill a potential mugger. Sean and his partner Detective Powers (Laurence Fishburne) are assigned to solve Katie's murder. But the grieving Jimmy is not waiting for the police investigation; he calls on his old underworld buddies to uncover the identity of his daughter's murderer. With Sean and Powers applying pressure, Celeste is not sure which part of her husband's story to believe. Their world once again shattered, Jimmy, Sean and Dave hurtle towards another life-changing encounter with the strange forces of destiny.

Sean Penn (Best Actor) and Tim Robbins (Best Supporting Actor) won the Academy Awards, but all the cast members deliver outstanding performances, filled with nuance, flickers of understated emotion, and smoldering anger, agony or rage. As secrets of the past threaten to break into the open, the characters often say what they need to in order to actually hide what they are thinking. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland, adapting Dennis Lehane's book, creates tough personalities that are frighteningly real in their behaviour, with traits that are only gradually revealed as the present collides with the past and fate comes calling.

Towards the end of Mystic River, the unseen power that women hold over their men surfaces, as both Celeste and Annabeth step out of the shadows to play pivotal roles in their husbands' fortunes. Linney as Annabeth has just the one key scene, but it's unforgettable as she chillingly reassembles her husband's self-worth and pride, readying him to fight on, as he has always had to.

Clint Eastwood approaches the peak of his directing career, knitting together a story that connects two tragedies across a span of a generation. His style is calm in the midst of emotional storms, the cameras discretely capturing a proud neighbourhood filled with strong characters in heart wrenching turmoil. In addition to co-producing, Eastwood also contributed an evocative music score.

Mystic River meanders expertly past the often untold stories of pain and suffering that hide behind many nondescript windows, a searing reminder that life can offer up challenging choices at any time, and the smallest decisions can have the most devastating of consequences.

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