Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Brian Helgeland
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
I was hesitant about seeing Mystic River because Eastwood’s last directorial outing was the horrible mess, Blood Work, a very, very bad police thriller. Two years before that I saw Space Cowboys, an unfunny comedy about retired astronauts going back into space. After doing some research, I discovered that the last good movie he directed was A Perfect World, which was made 10 years ago, validating my concern.
I used to enjoy Clint immensely. In fact, I recently attended a double feature of movies he directed from the ‘70s at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood (Outlaw Josey Wales and High Plains Drifter on the big screen. Keep drooling, suckers!), but after his latest effort, I’m nominating him for entry into The Lost Boys, a group of formerly talented filmmakers who just don’t have the magic anymore. Woody Allen and Francis Coppola are members of this dubious list. While still appreciating their previous work, their direction of a film is no longer a guarantee of quality. Scorsese’s The Aviator better be good or he will be nominated at year’s end, but that’s a different sad story.
Let me get back to the sad story about the sad story that is Mystic River. The film starts off with three friends, Jimmy, Sean and Dave, playing street hockey in Boston. Two policemen take Dave away to see his parents; however, we soon discover that they are pedophiles who brutalized Dave for four days before he escaped. One of the perpetrators was a priest. Neither man is brought to justice.
Remaining in the same town their entire lives, the boys grow apart having different reactions to Dave’s abduction. Sean became a police detective, seeing a universal morality, an objective right and wrong that needed to be enforced. Jimmy became a criminal, rebelling against authority. He sees an individual, subjective morality. Dave, most affected by what happened, is in limbo between both views, unable to commit in a world that makes no sense, but he forges ahead as best he can.
They all get married with Jimmy and Dave marrying cousins, Annabeth and Celeste, although becoming related doesn’t bring them any closer. Both Jimmy and Dave have children. Jimmy has three daughters from two wives while Dave has one son. Sean’s wife runs away for reasons he’s not completely sure of. She calls him frequently, but never speaks. I’m sure it’s an interesting novel device, but it grated on my nerves after a while. Many characters are silenced and mute in this film, literally and figuratively, but silence doesn’t always work in a visual medium.
One night, Jimmy’s oldest daughter, Katie, is killed in a local park. That same night Dave gets home late, his hands scraped up and covered in blood. He explains to his wife that he nearly beat a mugger to death. He acts overly suspicious the rest of the film and tells everyone a different story about what caused the condition of his hands. The writer seems very motivated to make Dave appear guilty, so much so that it’s pretty obvious that he didn’t do it. There’s also the complete lack of motivation for him to have committed the crime.
Dave becomes a suspect with the police because he was at the same bar that Katie was at the night she died and they don’t buy his “garbage disposal” story that he gives them about his hands’ condition. When the police question his wife, she begins to doubt Dave’s story. I didn’t believe Dave lying to his wife, especially when we find out what the truth is. She would have accepted what happened. One odd moment during the investigation of Dave is when he’s being interrogated in the box. Just when the detectives are backing Dave into a corner, he outsmarts them by using their evidence to prove his innocence. This doesn’t ring true because Dave hasn’t had a consistent story the entire time, yet he comes across like a criminal mastermind in this scene. After Dave is released, Celeste tells Jimmy about her doubts, setting forth a deadly chain of events.
I can’t say anymore without giving away the conclusion, but this causes a problem in critiquing the film because the major element I have a problem with is the ending. I found the decisions and final actions of all the main characters unsatisfying. I believe the crossroads they all end up at, but not the culmination of the paths they all choose to take.
Mystic River is not about solving the murder of Katie; it’s about how events from the past affect your present and future, about the unfairness of justice, about following one’s own moral code. But I wondered why so much time was spent involved in the solving of the crime only to have themes piled on during the epilogue of the film. With that being said, I did find the solving of Katie’s murder to be very engaging. It was unexpected while still being believable. All the other storylines spun off into a complete letdown.
Even with the forced focus on Dave as a suspect, I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the film. It is a very talented ensemble put together and although there were great performances all around, I thought Tim Robins gave the more impressive of them. Sean Penn was good, but his role didn’t require much range. I’m baffled by Tim’s recognition as a supporting actor, since there are three main characters and he is the catalyst for many of the events that drive the story. He is not a supporter and I wish he would have the decency to reject any accolades he receives with that designation, but whom am I kidding.