Feb. 10, 2004 – "Mystic River" is a big blockbuster of a movie set to contend for several Academy Awards. It also contains what is arguably Sean Penn's finest performance as the enraged and heartbroken father of a murdered 19-year-old daughter.
Director Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" has invented a new movie subgenre one critic says: "Neighborhood noir."
And the neighborhood is a brooding rough, section of Boston. A place, according to Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.com, which isn't comforting. "Places where the jovial, longtime buddy you pass on the street knows not just all your secrets, but all your weaknesses." Where "the most feral and the most ruthless creatures become the natural kings, and anyone who is too sensitive or too damaged needs to be sacrificed for the good of the tribe."
Brrr, doesn't look like Kansas here. And it gets worse.
Eastwood has been criticized in the past for perfectly put together movies, which lack grace. Zacharek says, "Sometimes there has to be a kind of mad messiness to great art, and Eastwood is all about neatness and control." Until now.
This is a story of three eleven-year-old boys –– Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Dave Boyle ( Tim Robbins) and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) — of working-class Irish Catholic Boston stock who undergo a shattering experience, an "awful act of transgression," according to one reviewer, as one of them, Boyle is abducted and raped.
When we meet them again, it is 25 years later, and something even more awful has happened to reunite them. Markum's 19-year-old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) has been brutally murdered. The threesome is no longer really close, even though Markum and Boyles' (Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden, respectively) wives are friends.
Now a "brusquely competent" homicide detective, Devine is assigned to the case along with his partner the tough Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne). Markum is now a "cocky" (how could Sean Penn else be described?) ex-con and businessman, while Boyle has grown into an "inwardly tormented" workingman, husband and dad.
With a cast like this in roles like this, what more could you ask? A plot that won't let you get comfortable, and sensitive, brilliant direction.
The troubled Boyle sees Katie dancing seductively in a local bar the night of her murder; he returns home that night bloodied and wounded, telling his wife of a street fight.
In the wake of Katie's murder, Markum becomes consumed with revenge, and he has his own plans to find the killer. As the murder investigation continues, the men's wives become more fearful of what it might reveal, and withdraw in their own ways.
But all of this could be simply another loss of innocense saga, were it not for Eastwood's sensitive hand. According to Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, "As boys turned men …. these three great actors in this great movie thriller, rip up the neighborhood and tear at your heart."
"Even if Eastwood's view sounds steeped in cynicism, it's really a kind of raw mournfulness," Zacharek says. "'Mystic River' is hard-boiled beyond toughness; it's so tender that the skin falls away from the bone. It's Eastwood's most soulful, and most organic, movie."
It is rated R for language, violence and sexual themes. It starts Thursday at Market Square East.

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