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Mystic River


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Mystic River
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Don't be hoodwinked by the high level of buzz swarming around this film - Mystic River is marginal, at best.  Time and again, a rabid press compares the movie to Clint Eastwood's seminal directorial achievement, Unforgiven.  The flick does deal with similar themes of violence and its consequences, but the comparisons end there. 

Unforgiven was a personal picture about a gunslinger's battles with the bottle and his inner-demons.  Mystic River is a contrived murder mystery with clues coincidentally scattered throughout in a way that would do a bad episode of Murder, She Wrote proud.

Mystic River begins with three boys playing a game of stickball on the street in a blue-collar neighborhood in Boston.  The boys lose their ball and their attention is quickly diverted to a square of wet-cement.  One of the boys decides to carve his name in the cement, because it will be there forever.  The other two boys follow suit.  A man posing as a cop stops and asks one of the three vandals to come with him in the car.  The guy traps and molests the boy for close to a week, until the frightened child manages to escape. 

Twenty-five years go by and the three boys, now men, are brought together again, due to Jimmy Markum's (Sean Penn) 19-year-old daughter being murdered.  Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) is still trying to overcome those horrible nights he spent with the pervert (there's actually two perverts, but I'm trying to keep this review short), and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) is off being a detective. 

When Markum's daughter is found murdered, Devine is put on the case.  Due to a far-fetched series of circumstances that would possibly play well on an episode of Scooby-Doo, Boyle is brought into the case as a suspect.  Because of this, he's forced to face his past and see if he can escape the "vampires" of his future.  He also proves to be the perfect pitchman for Sprite.

Clint Eastwood has always been a patient director.  Each of his films is deliberately paced.  Mystic River is no exception.  The problem with the film is that there's no emotional connection to the characters.  Although nearly everyone in the movie cries the audience a damn river, it's hard to care about any of them.  Crocodile tears played out over a backdrop of mediocrity does not a moving film make.  This is cookie cutter anguish meant to manipulate the emotionally gullible into believing that they're watching something meaningful.  

The character of Sean Devine has no personality or reason for being, other than to help solve this grown-up Hardy Boys' case (I'm surprised that there weren't smugglers and a cove featured somewhere in the film).  His partner, Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) is the token black guy of the film.  He's the token black guy named "Whitey."  Hmm.  He has all the personality of an empty bottle of mineral water (at least a full bottle of mineral water sparkles).  It's a shame, too, because Fishburne can be one hell of an actor.

The performers give it their all.  They actually give too much.  Nearly everyone overacts to the point where you start wondering if they thought that they were in a play, and needed to project.  Eastwood does his best as a director, but this is one of those times when his best isn't good enough.  He's still stuck in his corny Blood Work/Space Cowboys mode, but with the pretensions of Unforgiven

Like Unforgiven, the characters in Mystic River spend much of their time in the shadows.  But where Unforgiven placed its characters in shadows because it was necessary to convey the bleakness of one of the most important films of the 20th century, Mystic River comes off as a "very special people in shadows" episode of NYPD Blue.  This movie isn't Eastwood's worst, but it's his most irritating, because it seems so cocksure that it is actually one of his best.

Although nothing really hits you in the gut, there are a few scenes during the last 30 minutes of the film that do manage to give you a little love pat to the belly.  But it isn't long before the pat turns into a tickle and you feel as though you're being cheated as an intelligent filmgoer.  When you finally find out who murdered Jimmy's daughter (after a grueling 2 hours and 15 minutes), it's contrived, convoluted and laughable.

I didn't hate Mystic River - I was just incredibly disappointed by the film.  Clint Eastwood's subtle craftsmanship as a director is a refreshing nod back to the old-fashioned days of film.  Sadly, the screenplay for this movie, written by the unpredictable Brian Helgeland, is simultaneously discursive and simplistic; cooking Mystic River into a half-baked "thriller" that's disingenuous to the point of being offensive.

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Coming soon -- Reviews of The Matrix Revolutions, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Runaway Jury!

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Lord of the Rings - Return of the King, Gollum




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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].