MYSTIC RIVER is a crime drama that's got plenty of whodunit to it, but it is in
the methodically laid out character studies that the movie soars. It is so
filled with extraordinary performances in even the minor roles that you hardly
know where to start in discussing it -- which is the same problem that Academy
voters will have when it comes to choosing this year's Oscar nominations.
Laura Linney, for example, has what, until almost the very end of the movie,
appears to be a small, almost throwaway part as the wife of one the film's
leads, played brilliantly by Sean Penn. But not long before the ending credits
roll, she gives a dynamite short speech that shockingly explains the character
whom we barely knew. Everyone in the story, based on Dennis Lehane's popular
novel, has a world of hurt buried deep within them. During the movie, some of
these wounds are revealed early, some later and some not at all.
In his best job as a director since UNFORGIVEN, Clint Eastwood is truly
masterful in the way he devises the scenes. The stunning end to the movie is
made with two simple but powerful hand gestures between Sean Penn and Kevin
The movie starts in the past with an incident that forever traumatizes three
11-year-old boys, Jimmy, Sean, and most especially Dave. Tim Robbins (THE
SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION), in his performance ever, plays the adult Dave, who is so
downtrodden and emotionally scarred that his face seems to be sinking into his
skull. He might have a driver's license, but he's a mental cripple who isn't
effectively much older than eleven. He is the world's best father to his son.
In a touching piece of acting, Marcia Gay Harden plays Dave's wife. She
supports him but doesn't trust him since she is effectively married to a minor.
Penn, as Jimmy, Robbins and Harden all deserve Oscar nominations as does
Someone is murdered -- you know who if you've seen the trailers -- which causes
Sean (Kevin Bacon), a homicide detective, to go back to his old stomping
grounds to investigate it. Sean has his own problems of which we only get
hints. Laurence Fishburne is excellent as Whitey, Sean's partner, who provides
some appreciated humor.
The story keeps us guessing as it throws out leads, some of them bogus. At a
certain point in the narrative, almost everyone in the audience suddenly
guesses the who and why of the murder, but there is no letdown. The movie is
more about the pain of the characters and how they deal with it. One thing is
certain. You'll feel a lot more pleasure than pain. Watching this phenomenal
film is such a joy since it reminds you how smooth and satisfying viewing a
masterfully constructed motion picture can be.
MYSTIC RIVER runs 2:20. The film is rated R for "language and violence" and
would be acceptable for most teenagers.
The film opens nationwide in the United States on Wednesday, October 15, 2003.
In the Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the AMC theaters, the Century
theaters and the Camera Cinemas.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes