I love Mystic River. But I’m not going to watch it again.
Before you get up in arms, know that there’s really no need: All I have to do is close my eyes, and I can feel the tension and dread and sadness that permeate the movie. And then I see Sean Penn reaching out for sheer life, while being held back by all those uniformed policemen.
The day I saw the movie was the day I became a fan of Penn. But I digress.
Quick take: Three childhood friends grow up to be very different men, after one of them is kidnapped while they are playing and kept hostage while being sexually abused by his captors. One is now a policeman (Bacon), the other an ex-con (Penn), and another is fragile, still trying to escape his childhood ordeal (Robbins). Then there is a murder of the ex-con’s daughter (and we’re not even halfway in), and then everything and everyone slowly lumbers to hell – with suspicion, murder, and betrayal along the path.
The acting is magnificent: The cast is a murderers’ row, including Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, and Laurence Fishburne in addition to the aforementioned A-listers. This was a film that baited Oscar talk before it was even released. Mystic River (2003, rated R like all the good films are) was nominated for six of those awards, including best picture and best director, winning two: Penn for Best Actor (deserved) and Robbins for best supporting actor (discuss amongst yourselves).
But, the beauty of the craft aside, it was the vision behind Mystic River that made it so compelling. And that singular vision belonged to Clint Eastwood, director.
In lesser hands, Mystic River might have been a by-the-book – yeah, bro, I know it was an adaptation of one by Dennis Lehane; stay in your lane – crime procedural of a movie. Maybe call it Law and Order: SVU, made for the big screen. It, most decidedly, is not. In lesser hands, Mystic River might have been an incomprehensible mess, with its interweaving yet starkly separate story lines that might lead such strong actors to chew on so much scenery. That did NOT happen here. (I mean, who would do that with Dirty Harry looking on, amirite?)
Eastwood managed to conjure the perfect storm. He took that magnificent cast, added slow, lingering shots, and mixed a brew to be reckoned with anytime someone decides to make a list of top crime/mystery movies.
The eerie calm of each scene, with spare music throughout the film, left room for the actors to be the ones to shake the room. The directorial touches were deft, but in a noticeable way; Eastwood might as well have been part of the cast. He is, after all, a hands-on director … and hey, he even composed the music.
When I’m preparing to write about a movie, I take notes of things that strike me as I’m watching. But at the end of the movie, when all is said and done, I write one word, and it’s how I feel. For example, when I watched Trolls with my little one, I wrote “happy.”
After viewing Mystic River, I filled a page. With a page full of feelings, I know I don’t need to watch it again.