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USA 2003
Directed by
Clint Eastwood
137 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Mystic River

Synopsis: Three young boys Jimmy, Sean and Dave are playing in the street in a rundown suburb of Boston when something shattering happens that is to change all their lives forever. Twenty-five years later Sean (Kevin Bacon) is now a local homicide detective, Jimmy (Sean Penn) an ex-con trying to go straight, and Dave a husband and father who is permanently traumatised by that event. Soon the friends, who have drifted apart, are thrust back together by the senseless murder of Jimmy's daughter. The finger of suspicion gradually points towards Dave, who is forced to confront the demons of his past but Jimmy and Sean, as integral parts of the investigation, must also open old wounds and face their own baggage. All their lives will once more be changed irrevocably.

Clint Eastwood's film has as raw and emotionally intense a set of performances as I have seen in a long time. Tim Robbins has always brought an intensity to his roles, but here he excels himself in an utterly empathetic performance of a man who has internalised his trauma and who we at once pity, suspect, and ultimately grieve for. Sean Penn gives his strongest performance ever, with one extraordinary scene in which a father's grief permeates the entire cinema, although he brings the entire gamut of emotions to his character. Kevin Bacon, although less emotional and more understated than the other two, in contrast brings to his character a subtlety and measured nuance that keeps the film grounded. Seldom have I seen such a wonderful synergy between three main characters who complement each other so well.

Backing up these central roles are some mighty fine performances, firstly by Laurence Fishburne as Sean's partner Whitey Powers. Playing Dave's wife Celeste is Marcia Gay Harden. Jimmy's wife, Annabeth, is played by Laura Linney. Both these women bring depth and emotion to their characters, and although their roles are relatively small, they are an integral part of the plot. And talking of plot, just as any good novel makes you hanker for the next page, so the scenes in this film are constructed that you find yourself rivetted in anticipation of what will be revealed next and to which character the next scene will return.

Eastwood doesn't flinch from any of the darkness or intensity of his material. From the very opening scenes there is an unsettling sense of menace which sets the tone for what is to come. Alternating between aerial shots and extreme close-ups, he brings the audience to a point of absolute engagement with every detail of the film. He delves into the dark corners of human emotions and wrings the most sublime performance out of each and every actor. Mystic River could perhaps be the film of the year although there will be some who find the final ten minutes or so a fatally jarring imposition of over-neat, Hollywood-style resolution.




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