Hollywood, eat Mystic River's dust

Oct. 12, 2003, midnight | By Luke Bostian | 20 years, 8 months ago

Modern cinema has a new top dog in Eastwood's masterpiece

It's impossible to focus on a character or event in Mystic River that could be the subject of a clever lead. There's not even a particular part of the production that could be focused on. The problem is that everything in the movie is perfect.

Mystic River is Clint Eastwood's tale of three boyhood friends in South Boston and the gruesome murder that brings them together again after years of drifting apart.

The movie opens with the three buddies—Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) and Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins)—playing street hockey. They lose the ball down a drain, and on the chase to get the ball Jimmy notices a wet panel of concrete. Jimmy and Sean etch their names, but Dave never finishes. A black sedan pulls up, and a man with handcuffs and a badge gets out and yells at the boys. He orders Dave, whom he's caught in the act, to get in the car.

Dave is taken to a basement and raped for four days by the men before he escapes. Dave's abduction has a profound effect on all three boys and comes back to haunt all three of them as the main story unfolds in the present. Any more outlining of the plot would be telling—the storylines are complicated and deeply intertwined and are better left to explain themselves.

So, to move on, Eastwood's directing is outstanding. He frequently makes use of unusual lighting to highlight his subjects, washing out the background in brightness or silhouetting the actors against multicolored sets. The shot selection is evocative and lends itself powerfully but unobtrusively to every scene. Shots also repeat themselves throughout the movie, with different subjects, a technique that serves to connect individual events to each other in a very effective way.

On the non-technical level, Eastwood had little room for improvement. He brings his actors to their absolute peak: It is difficult to believe that any of the film's characters could have been played with more empathy than they were. Also, the choreography of each scene could go completely unnoticed on a conscious level because it seems so fluid and natural, but at the same time it produces some of the most subtly effective character positioning in all of moviemaking.

On another note, Penn, Bacon and Robbins should share the Best Actor Oscar. The other major characters should earn Oscars for their respective roles, splitting the awards if necessary. There's no other way that it could be done fairly. ‘Nuff said.

There's only one possible weakness in the story, which comes at the end of the film, when Jimmy's wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) takes on a seemingly inexplicable Lady Macbeth-esque role. However, that startling and totally unforseen turn only deepens the audience's thoughts about and absorption in the movie and increases its disturbing power.

Allow me to conclude with a direct order: Go see Mystic River. It's playing in area theaters and is rated R for language, brutal violence and very, very mature themes.

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Luke Bostian. Luke Bostian is a senior in CAP and has nothing much to say for himself. Well, actually, that's a lie. Luke has a lot to say for himself and says it all the time. So he won't bore you with it. Suffice it to say … More »

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