A review of “Mystic River” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for language and violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

 

 

Dark, brooding, and suffused with appreciable anguish, Clint Eastwood’s moody screen-telling of Dennis Lehane’s sensational 2001 crime novel is an eloquent and significant thriller.

 Despite his traditionally heavy-hand at the helm, Eastwood minds his cinematic Ps and Qs.  Working narrative magic from screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s (“L.A. Confidential”) brilliant adaptation, he spins a complex tale of working-class neighborhood relationships with taut finesse.   

Jimmy Marcus (Sean Penn) is a brooding ex-con who’s finally made something of his life, running the corner store and the local criminal underground with equal amounts of swaggering confidence.  When his beloved 19-year old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) goes missing, Jimmy snaps.

Police detective Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) is first on the scene, and it’s not pretty.  Katie has been brutally murdered, and Sean immediately recognizes her as one of Jimmy’s girls.  To complicate matters, classic underachiever Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) arrives home in the wee hours of the night of Katie’s murder, covered in blood and spinning a crazy yarn of messing up a despicable pedophile and possibly killing him.

Jimmy, Sean and Dave, ostensibly disconnected as adults, but joined for life by a pivotal childhood event that seriously impacted them all -- a kids’ game of street hockey that went morbidly awry when two men posing as police detectives forced young Dave into their car, spiriting him away and holding him prisoner for four terrifying days.

Blue-collar South Boston has never felt so gritty, nor so dark.  As Sean and his savvy partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) rake the city for clues, Jimmy takes matters into his own hands by hiring a couple of local toughs to conduct their own investigation.  Dave’s wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) watches her broken husband disintegrate like dust, while entertaining unspeakable suspicions of her own.

Eastwood has taken on a Herculean task, and succeeded on almost every level. His powerhouse cast is beyond reproach, especially Penn, who ratchets up the tension throughout with his black-leather, ex-con machismo and anxious intensity.  The ever-underrated Robbins is positively stellar as a tormented man on the verge, and Bacon exudes an icy control.

Only the film’s score is slightly off-kilter, courtesy of Eastwood’s skilled but pretentious musical endeavors. Discordant strains ebb and flow through the action, deliciously manipulative but somehow more evident than they should be.  Picky point, because “Mystic River” is one of this year’s best efforts.