Friday, 28 August 2009

Mystic River: Not Your Usual Buddy Film

If I said it once, I said it a hundred times – I do not like Clint Eastwood…or his films. I despise him which is a rather strange thing to say. I’ve never met, he has not wrought any damage to my life or anyone I know, but I do. It’s probably because twice he and his films have won Oscars over my favourites. I can be so petty. That being said, I love Mystic River. It is my favourite Clint Eastwood film – by a mile. I don’t feel as if he’s hitting me over the head with his moral shit – and more importantly – he’s not in it! That’s one of my main gripes about Clint – I hate his acting. But I’m getting off topic. Let’s get back to the Mystic.
Mystic River tells the story of three former childhood friends and how one event draws them together for with tragic results. This movie is actually pretty depressing to an extent, but it’s really, really good. The three mean are Jimmy (Sean Penn], Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins). It features each of these actors – almost – at the top of their game. I say almost because Sean Penn’s best, for me, will always be Dead Man Walking.
When Jimmy's  daughter is murdered one night it thrusts the three men together in ways they could never imagined. Years ago these men were best friends. Whilst playing on the streets one day Dave gets abducted by some men. We can only imagine what happens to him but it seems that he has been permanently damaged, even though after some time he does make an escape. This is the only glimpse we get of them as children because the scene fast forwards decades years later. Sean is the lead detective on the case and Dave, who is seemingly uninvolved was part of an alleged brawl the same night, coming home with blood on his hands.
Much of the power of the film lies in its wonderful screenplay and the denouement of events, so I will not say anymore, except, that it all makes for an extremely taut film.The cast is somewhat large. In addition to Tim, Sean and Kevin there are some vitally important supporting roles. Laurence Fishburne as a co-detective, Laura Linney as Jimmy's second wife but most important of all Marcia Gay Harden as the troubled wife of Dave.
As good as the men are in this movie - and they are really good. There is one performance that will always be great for me is Marcia Gay Harden. In case you didn’t know, I love her. I have not seen that many of her films, but I’ve seen enough. She’s a great actress. She should have won that second Oscar for her portrayal of Celeste in this movie. There’s that big scene at the end where her son is in this parade and not to give the plot away, but it’s all really sad and tragic and then she starts running, it’s my favourite scene from the movie. It’s no dialogue but just the look on her face it’s just so completely evocative and is some of the best actressing work. A true supporting performance for the ages. I figure a part of me is drawn to Marcia’s performance because of the backlash her character endures. If you scroll across the IMDB charts the amount of posters purporting her to be a bad wife is insurmountable. There is a telling scene where she goes to Jimmy and tells him something very important, but for all the wrong reasons. This is not a betrayal. This is a woman who is at her wits’ ends and who desperately wants not only to do the right thing, but to help her husband. This is really a difficult role and kudos to Marcia for a great performance.
I'm not going to go into Penn and Robbins, because what has not been said before. They're magnificent in their roles. That's really all I can say. But what about Kevin Bacon. He's not half bad. He's just as good as the two. He doesn't have that power role like the others, but his Sean is just as important. Sure, the recurring calls from his wife are a tad heavy handed, but Bacon does good. I like the look on his face at the end too, when he cocks an imaginary gun at Jimmy.You can see the sadness on his face. He knows all too well that they're not boys anymore.

 This is a sad movie… I mean there are hundreds films with ostensibly sad endings but there’s always some sort of hope. This movie’s hope is insubstantial though, and I figure that’s where Mystic River fails. I can’t be sure, but I believe we’re supposed to feel the most for Jimmy and the tough decision he makes. And I do, to an extent. But at the end of the day the family I feel the most for is Celeste and Dave and the injustice done to them is just horrific. The entire film has been built up for us to feel Jimmy's side of the story...I'm all for a surprise ending, and the ending is a surprise indeed. I have not read the book, so I don't know, but in the movie you feel cheated that not only does the good finish last, but there seems to be no adequate character building for some characters. Notably Laura Linney's Annabeth who I just wanted to smash across the face.

Nevertheless, this is a terrific film. The acting is wonderful as is the writing…and Clint Eastwood’s unusually subtle direction works perfectly here. The cast, as mentioned earlier, are great. This is not a feel good film, but it’s a thought provoking one. Worthy of all the awards it won.
What are your thoughts on Mystic? Clint Eastwood's best? Penn's? Robbins? Gay Harden?


Danny King said...

It is a great film, however, my favorite Eastwood film is Million Dollar Baby, which is also one of my all-time favorites.

I'm surprised to hear you say you are not an Eastwood fan, he is one of my favorites. I think this is Sean Penn's best performance by far, Tim Robbins is also great. The climactic scene at the river is the work of a master.

M. Carter @ the Movies said...

Since "Shutter Island" isn't hitting theaters until Friday, I won't say that "Mystic River" is my favorite film based on a Dennis Lehane novel, but it ranks HIGH up there. Clint Eastwood was the perfect choice to direct a dark-hearted ensemble drama like this, and Penn is riveting as always. But Marcia Gay Harden and Tim Robbins deserve just as much praise for parts that are far less showy but no less devastating. Even Kevin Bacon seems correctly cast.