Retro Review: Mystic River

There seems to be a trend in all Clint Eastwood directed films that don’t star the iconic actor. Starting in 1973’s “Breezy”, Eastwood really began to explore with the camera as just a director.

With a gap of 15 years, Eastwood returned to sole-directing with 1988’s “Bird” where he found a new depth and ability to move an audience with subtly.

His next sole-project was 1997’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil” where he explored a darker theme and found a better connection between director and actor.

Each of these projects had their statements and exploration but each didn’t have wide market appeal. Eastwood’s latest sole-project is a lot like those predecessors.

A neighborhood is like a family. For three boys, Jimmy, Dave and Sean, it was their life until one fateful day where their friendship changed forever.

Twenty-five years later, the three men are brought back together when Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is viciously murdered.

Jimmy’s childhood friend Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a detective, heads the murder investigation that could lead to their friend Dave (Tim Robbins).

Sean must keep distraught Jimmy at bay long enough to secure Dave’s innocence. Time is running out.

“Mystic River” follows in the foot-steps of sole-Eastwood directorial projects in that Eastwood is learning as he hones his directing skills. “Mystic River” uses a lot of what Eastwood has learned.

He brings out breath-taking performances in both Penn and Robbins as well as stellar supporting performances from both Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney.

He also capitalizes on the darkness and heart-wrenching he has built from previous projects. Eastwood however is still learning how to sculpt a film.

There are a lot of scenes that let the viewer wander and his ending is left to the imagination of the audience which was very sour for my taste. In a harrowing crime drama you don’t want to left to your own devices upon its conclusion. Can you imagine if great crime dramas had endings like that? If “Law & Order” was like that I would throw things at the TV.

What needs to be addressed and heralded when watching this film is how much Eastwood has been able to evoke emotion in his actors.

Sean Penn’s performance in this film is a landmark for the actor’s career. His pain and crying out is utterly heart-wrenching. He is a marvel.

Then you have Robbins and his subtle and subdued but disturbed performance that puts you on the edge of your seat. He is also brilliant. Then when you put Kevin Bacon beside these amazing performances you have to admire the actor for taking a more subtle role to his fellow stars.

I feel that this film could have been so much better but I also have to blame screenwriter Brian Helgeland whose script needed some structure polishing. The floundering screenwriter needs a break and this film isn’t it.

As I have said about Eastwood sole-projects that each one is a learning experience for the director. “Mystic River” shows just how close Eastwood is to honing his directorial eye. When all his elements do come together it will be a mind-boggling achievement in film.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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