Mystic River (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner13/10/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 138 mins

Well written, impressively directed and brilliantly cast, this slow-burning thriller is Eastwood’s best film since Unforgiven.

Since winning the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Unforgiven in 1992, Clint Eastwood’s output as a director has included the execrable likes of True Crime, Absolute Power and Blood Work, alongside merely average work such as Space Cowboys and The Bridges of Madison County, so it’s fair to say that he’s not exactly in the habit of churning out masterpieces.

Happily then, Mystic River represents something of a return to form for the 73 year old director, as it’s easily his best film since Unforgiven.

Abduction Destroys Lives

Adapted from Dennis Lehane’s complex novel by screenwriter Brian Helgeland (who did a similarly brilliant job on L.A. Confidential), Mystic River is set in a blue-collar neighbourhood of Boston and tells the tale of Jimmy, Sean and Dave, three childhood friends whose friendship is torn apart after Dave is abducted by two strangers.

Years later, the men find themselves thrust back together after the brutal murder of ex-con Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) 19 year old daughter. Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a detective, is assigned to investigate the case along with his partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) while Dave (Tim Robbins), still haunted by his past, begins to emerge as a likely suspect.

At nearly two hours and twenty minutes, the film takes its time to unfold, but Eastwood and Helgeland ensure that your attention is held throughout, with the gradual revelation of important plot points and character details. Eastwood’s direction throughout is assured and measured, slowly building to an almost unbearable climax.

Brilliant Casting Leads To World Class Performances

The film is brilliantly cast. The three leads all turn in world class performances, with Penn the stand-out as a man wrestling with both grief and an all-consuming rage for revenge. Bacon is excellent too, in, essentially, the role Clint himself might have played – his performance subtly hints at the way his past has damaged him too. Robbins has the more difficult, showier role (significantly cut down from the book) but still manages to balance both the sympathy and the growing unease of the audience.

There’s also great support from Laurence Fishburne (who single-handedly redeems himself for his awful grand-standing turns in Bad Boyz and Reloaded with a laid-back, funny performance) as well as Laura Linney (as Jimmy’s Lady Macbeth-like wife) and Marcia Gay Harden as Dave’s long-suffering wife who grows ever less sure of his innocence.

One mystery the film deepens rather than solves is that of The Two Brian Helgelands – it seems impossible that the brilliant screenwriter of Mystic River and L.A. Confidential is the same Brian Helgeland behind the twin stinkers of Blood Work and The Sin Eater. At any rate, his script is both intelligent and thought-provoking, uniting the themes of guilt and the sins of the past into a story with the emotional resonance of a Greek tragedy.

To sum up, Mystic River may be as slow-moving as its namesake, but the result is a rewarding, intelligent, brilliantly acted thriller. Highly recommended.

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Mystic River (15)
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Content updated: 17/12/2017 09:59

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