I am already on record claiming Clint Eastwood gets too much of a free pass with some of his films. I find Million Dollar Baby entirely overrated and frankly detested Gran Torino.
That said Mystic River is one film that he got about spot on, though with the quality of the cast and the storyline it would have actually taken more effort to mess this up.
Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins) were childhood friends that grew up in very different directions after an incident saw teenaged Dave abducted in broad daylight by men posing as police.
Now all in their 40s, Sean is now a father of 3 running a respectable business – though with some especially shady friends from a decidedly different past of his own. Jimmy took a very different tack and ended up a cop, and Dave, still suffering from the after-effects of his childhood ordeal, is still somewhat directionless, hanging about in bars and on street corners.
The three are reunited in unfortunate circumstances when Jimmy’s teenage daughter goes missing – on the same night Dave comes home in the wee small hours covered in blood…
Sean is called in to investigate the disappearance, which ends in the discovery of the girl’s battered body in a water drain. Jimmy is understandably distraught and demanding of answers, Dave’s wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) provides support to Jimmy’s wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) and their other children, silently wondering if the two events are related…
As are we for much of the film, though we aren’t told anything for some time as the tale languidly unfurls in front of us. Eastwood is savvy enough to feed us tidbits periodically through the story, some more obvious than others – then leaving it to us to wonder if it is a red herring or an actual clue. Unfortunately the third act allows this tension build to lapse in favour of some sudden developments and an ending that like Gone Baby, Gone is a little clever for its own good. Unlike that movie Mystic River suffers just a little as a result.
The acting is uniformly excellent, Penn and Robbins as standouts and deserving all praise (and awards) thrown their way, with Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne as his partner also rock solid. The surprise for me was Marcia Gay Harden as Celeste, who must decide if being the good loyal wife is as important as knowing the real truth.
Final rating – 8 / 10. Like the afore-mentioned Gone Baby, Gone Mystic River inhabits the same universe of the seedy areas of Boston, is written by the same author and is equally well cast. In the end I must give the advantage to Affleck’s film over Eastwood’s, probably much to the chagrin of ‘proper’ critics the world over.