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Overall Rating
3.73

Awesome39.11%
Worth A Look: 20.3%
Just Average: 20.79%
Pretty Crappy: 14.36%
Sucks: 5.45%

12 reviews, 130 user ratings


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Mystic River
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by Mel Valentin

"Overpraised, overhyped, notable only for its performances."
3 stars

Every fall, a low- or mid-budget drama, tackling a “serious” subject, and perhaps given critical cachet by the participation of a well-known director and an even better know cast, becomes “the” film championed by critics and audiences alike. As the critical accolades rush in, inevitably the discussion turns to the Academy Awards and whether this particular film will be justly rewarded for its performances, direction, and exploration of the difficult subject matter.

Case in point, Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood from a script by Brian Helgeland (and based on a popular novel by crime novelist Dennis Lahane), which explores the decades long aftereffects and consequences of pedophilia on three sometime friends, Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) against the backdrop of a present day crime that inextricably draws the three men together.

Jimmy Markum is a one-time, small-time criminal, who, after serving a prison sentence in his youth, has rehabilitated himself into a small business owner and respectable community leader. Jimmy has a teenage daughter from a previous relationship, Katie (Emmy Rossum), and two children with his current wife, Annabeth (Laura Linney). Dave Boyle, the long-ago victim of sexual predators, lives a shabbily comfortable, if troubled wife. He too is married, to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and has an adolescent son. Dave, still suffering from the psychic wounds of his childhood experience, can barely support his wife. Sean Devine has taken a different path. He’s become a detective in the Boston police department. Sean, it seems, has a troubled home life. His wife has left him, calling him randomly from an undisclosed location. She doesn’t speak (he does, in long-winded, "on-the-nose" monologues).

There are multiple, intractable problems with Mystic River that undermine its perceived critical reputation. First, the double coincidence that ties the death of a central character’s daughter to another central character’s unfortunate, and, of course, undermotivated, decision to go on a rampage the same night. Eastwood and Helgeland simply ask too much of their audience. There’s just too much coincidence, and not enough believability in tying these events to the same night or in the characters’ actions after that night. For example, a central character’s refusal to confess his actions to his wife, even after he's specifically articulated her fears about what he might have done on that fateful night. He prefers that his wife, his only significant connection to stability and normality, think the worst of him, and refusing to offer her a credible explanation for his guilt-ridden behavior. Why?

Second, the inclusion of Sean’s ongoing marital difficulties, expressed through a series of phone calls from his estranged wife (with Eastwood shooting Sean’s wife in tight close up, showing only her mouth and chin) is simply a plot device that probably worked well, or better, on the written page, but which feels “unnatural” and "unrealistic" in a film. It’s meant to allow the audience to gain some insight into Sean’s character and motivation. As a character, Sean is weakly drawn. Using the "talking to an off screen character" plot device to shore up that weakness is almost inexcusable, especially from a world-class director like Eastwood. The character's limitations are most evident in the final dialogue scene between Sean and Jimmy (which runs counter to psychological realism). After making a startling inference about Jimmy's actions, Sean goes on to reminisce about the three childhood friends (again) and the role of chance in their lives, then does nothing. Eastwood and Helgeland cover Sean's decision by having Sean’s wife call him at the end of their conversation. Obsessed with mending his relationship with his wife, Sean walks away, leaving his relationship with Jimmy unsatisfactorily resolved.

Third, Eastwood and Helgeland’s decision to include a “mute” character, who inevitably plays a key part in the mystery, suggests a profound unwillingness to treat Lahane’s source novel critically, eliminating plot devices that undermine themes or push past the need for credibility and believability from the characters, the decisions they make, and the world they inhabit. Simply put, the inclusion of a “mute” character comes across as a B- or even C-level plot device, best left to the pulpier entries in the genres. It's too familiar, tired, and ultimately serves only one narrative purpose, to act as a potential conduit to solving the murder that sets the plot in motion.

Fourth, Eastwood and Helgeland’s unimaginative, literal approach to the novel is evident in the decision to include an opening prologue set several decades in the past. Although the prologue follows the details of the novel closely, a more nuanced approached would have left the prologue as part of the characters' backstories and revealed gradually through dialogue or visual cues (i.e., each return to the incidents portrayed in the prologue uncovering additional information about that fateful day). This change alone would have resulted in greater emotional depth and effect, especially given how reticent the three central characters are about those events as adults.

Of course, many of these issues could be related to translating and adapting a 500-page novel (in paperback format) into a two-hour film, which roughly translates into a 120-page screenplay. A significant amount of compression is needed, pruning secondary characters, eliminating or trimming subplots, but Eastwood and Helgeland simply should have taken more care or time with the script. They didn’t.

Sadly, "Mystic River" is notable only for its grounded performances: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and to a lesser extent (because he had less to do, or emote to), Kevin Bacon (and not its creaky, conventional, B-level storytelling. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney are underused, their characters undermotivated, in limited roles, leaving them struggling with material unequal to their considerable acting talents. Linney, in particular, is forced to give a “Lady Macbeth”-like speech in the second-to-last scene that has an unintended effect, laughter.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8240&reviewer=402
originally posted: 06/11/05 17:16:15
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good & haunting film 4 stars
9/11/15 misterfilms poor films. i'm glad Academy gave LOTR Best Picture 1 stars
1/24/14 Simon Sleek direction& raw acting, but too deliberate&muddled. Awful end w/Linney's 'king' speech 3 stars
2/24/12 brian poor cinema tography, crap screenplay. disjointed,over dramatic Penn. .need i say more 2 stars
12/28/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Great movie by a great director. 5 stars
11/19/09 Jeff Wilder Eastwood's best film as a director. 5 stars
9/30/08 PAUL SHORTT SHOWS YOU CAN PILE ON A LOT OF FREIGHT AND STILL END UP WITH A BARGE 2 stars
9/27/07 mr.mike good mystery/thriller. Robbins is a stand-out. 4 stars
9/07/06 Thomas Semesky Predictable. There are better movies from 2003 worth seeing. 3 stars
8/25/06 cpbjr very good 4 stars
6/24/06 MP Bartley The more you see it, the more artificiality becomes apparent. Still packs a punch though. 4 stars
12/31/05 Tanya Sean penn is always great in his movies 4 stars
12/20/05 Carolyn Rathburn Very deep movie, impressed with Penn's performance 4 stars
12/08/05 Frank Rountree This movie was a disappointment, it didn't live up to it's billing 2 stars
9/20/05 Indrid Cold Seems like the point is to give Penn scenes where he can cry and show off his chops. 3 stars
9/12/05 ray mero Mystic seems a mighty muddy river and movie. 1 stars
9/09/05 Alex what a stupid idea! and should i move out of boston? 1 stars
8/18/05 ES Good movie, no idea what it was trying to say at the very end 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Penn as Brando-not, overacted,over praised,just over. 3 stars
7/11/05 Brian Feiler Impossible to ignore the fine performances of sean penn and tim robbins in this one. 5 stars
6/23/05 sally angwin everything that clint touches turns to gold 4 stars
6/12/05 Charlene Javier Hated it the first time. Loved loved loved it the second time. 5 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands such a great movie. One of the biggest stand-outs of Clint's career. 5 stars
3/25/05 Denise great 4 stars
3/23/05 Michael Lloyd a very emotional film, shouldve won best picture 5 stars
3/18/05 Messina Great movie if you like being hit over the head. 1 stars
3/03/05 jeff very predictble, nothing special. 3 stars
2/16/05 Daveman Superbly acted with muscular direction from Eastwood, lacked dramatic cohesion though. 4 stars
2/11/05 Aimee Shelton Very intense and well-acted. Superb film-making! 5 stars
2/05/05 Susan Chamberlain I kept watching even though I didn't want to. 4 stars
2/01/05 Alice Colwell Good movie 5 stars
1/31/05 Danita Berg yuck...still can't figure out what the hype is about. 2 stars
1/31/05 Christy Harris Very "who done it?" loved trying to figure out 5 stars
1/29/05 Frank Tells good movie 4 stars
1/29/05 Christine An excellent movie and the acting was first-rate 5 stars
1/28/05 Carolyn Rathburn This film was too intense for me, well acted, but not my cup of tea. 4 stars
1/15/05 Charlene Javier Loved it the second time around! 4 stars
1/13/05 Barry Taylor It was a good movie with a twist at the end but nothing special 3 stars
1/06/05 ewen Brilliant! 5 stars
12/30/04 Tjalda L. Schiel Over acted, over rated clap trap. 2 stars
12/27/04 juliana sadock savino bravo to eastwood for the score. it was at once unobtrusive & essential 5 stars
12/22/04 Michael OConnor Phenomenal Acting!!! 5 stars
12/15/04 PHIL M. AFICIONADO Riveting and moody, with a sad story to tell through excellent acting 5 stars
12/12/04 Landshark A parade of irony, hypocrisy & fate? Nope, just sound & fury signifying nothing. 3 stars
11/23/04 Geoff Brilliant movie. Great direction by Eastwood (musical score too) and performances from all 5 stars
11/22/04 Carly Austin Sean Penn is brilliant, as is every aspect of this movie. Watch Marcia Gay Harden too. 5 stars
11/11/04 jellica sean is really increadable 5 stars
10/31/04 shell Sean Penn was good, as ever, but this is a seriously flawed movie. Murray was ROBBED. 3 stars
9/26/04 alicia left me breathless 5 stars
9/14/04 R. Block Worst part: why throw in that scene w/ Penn IDing his daughter's body? Trite. 4 stars
8/16/04 Peter James Proves in a way that A Beautiful Mind did that great acting can make a movie amazing 5 stars
8/05/04 Chris a truly remarkable film. acting was amazing and story was powerful and emotional.very good 5 stars
8/04/04 ownerofdajoint PENN GIVES AN INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE.MOVIE SHOWS HOW SOME ARE DOOMED FROM THE GET-GO! 5 stars
7/27/04 Mike Devans very well done. 4 stars
7/23/04 Jannet Kwan This is a somewhat confusing movie. 3 stars
7/20/04 Harry J No story? Pay attention. Almost awesome. A really good story. 4 stars
7/15/04 Joe Smaltz good acting no story 2 stars
7/15/04 Glen Dean I didn't like the way Jimmy gets away with murder. 2 stars
7/11/04 Monster W. Kung Overrated crud. Good acting doesn't make up for muddled plot and loathsome 'moral'. 2 stars
7/11/04 Phil M. Aficionado EricDSnider speaks for me on this one; and, really really good acting is the key. 4 stars
7/08/04 JME No car crashes? Oh yeah, this isn't typical Hollywood schlock. 5 stars
7/07/04 Denise great plot 5 stars
6/28/04 Len Good movie worth watching 5 stars
6/25/04 Alex Robbins is superb, Penn is woefully overacting. All too dark to be worth a go 2 stars
6/21/04 Dick Logan Really good, Clint done good!! Very depressing though. 5 stars
6/19/04 elizaveta mesmerizing performances, truly surprising in the outcome, all too human 5 stars
6/12/04 Kooler Sloppy storytelling, & Penn nearly chokes on the scenery. Death to method actors! 3 stars
6/11/04 Shawn Great movie. Makes you think. 5 stars
6/10/04 Butterbean Climax was unnecessarily long. Screw Penn, Robbins outshine everyone. 4 stars
4/09/04 Vince Chan Excellent acting, plot was a bit thin in some spots.. long movie! 4 stars
4/07/04 jscrapple huge holes in the plot and nonsensical ending 2 stars
3/23/04 Chloe Brody This was fucking awesome - Penn finally got an Oscar that he really deserves... 5 stars
3/10/04 brett this movie blows. it left me wondering why i spent money on it 2 stars
3/08/04 Blaine Holloway oh yes im getting that!!!!! 2003: 3rd only to return of the king and last samurai! 5 stars
3/08/04 Wendranh Sean Penn...grown up 4 stars
3/06/04 C. Hernandez Not that great. Kevin Bacon's personal storyline seemed like an afterthought. 3 stars
3/06/04 movieboy Awesome the acting made this movie and what a intersting plot had me guessing to the end 5 stars
2/23/04 rhett the acting was so bad, if i wasn't with my girlfriend i would have left half way through 2 stars
2/22/04 Christopher Klejdys Man, I liked this movie...but the last 15 munutes were a disaster. 4 stars
2/11/04 Obi Wan Over-rated Penn Oscar talks for his IAS Snub...ending felt rushed...wait for Rental 3 stars
2/08/04 Gretchen Seitz Ray Jr. didn't kill Kate! He was covering for his creepy mama! Otherwise awesome. 4 stars
2/02/04 Jin Borrows heavily from Sleepers and In the Bedroom; both are better. 4 stars
1/29/04 timothy briant 2 star film with 5 star actors ,dissapointing quick ending for such an intricate plot . 2 stars
1/29/04 Seb Sloppy: dad and son play wiffle ball in a yard that's about 5 feet long. Duh. 2 stars
1/24/04 124 should win many academy awards 5 stars
1/24/04 vikram the master at work again 5 stars
1/23/04 Chloe Brody Wow! Sean Penn gets more amazing with each film! 5 stars
1/15/04 Ralph R. Clemente Great film and great acting. Bravo Mr. Eastwood 5 stars
1/08/04 Matt Fairly ok up until the truly awful ending. Trite and forced and consequently harms the film 3 stars
1/02/04 Admiral Piett Sean Penn sucks donkey balls. 1 stars
1/02/04 A F Ending dragged too long. I liked most of it, but you need to know when you should END! 4 stars
12/29/03 ownerofdajoint one of the greatest movies in the last ten years;don't miss it! 5 stars
12/29/03 Chlo This movie was so fucking brilliant...tell me - why hasn't Sean Penn won an Oscar yet? 5 stars
12/20/03 jj yes 5 stars
12/15/03 Buck Neilson incongruous 1 stars
12/13/03 G.W.B (lets bomb the world) JNR Go ahead make my day. Oh you just did!! 5 stars
12/08/03 Agent Sands Impressively shot, with great acting, strong, tight directing, good music, & good writing. 5 stars
12/06/03 admiral piett Sean Penn is in it. Enough said. 1 stars
11/28/03 DM Why do we let retards like Edler onto this site? 4 stars
11/28/03 jeff get real! it's an excellent film 5 stars
11/25/03 Fern Jones Brilliant 5 stars
11/23/03 John Bale Eastwood's film masterpiece with superb cast and craftmanship 5 stars
11/20/03 Helen Bradley Great script, pace,actors & directing 5 stars
11/19/03 boxcar anyone who didnt like this movie sucks 5 stars
11/18/03 Edler Sucked shit out of a baboon's ass. 2 stars
11/13/03 Sean Movie Critic Predictable, Long....but overall good story behind it. 4 stars
11/12/03 ownerofdajoint this is truly an awesome movie 5 stars
11/10/03 Jod Forget "Bridges of Madison County", Eastwood directs a masterpiece. 5 stars
11/06/03 Cameron Slick The strongest film of the year with several amazing performances, quite a perplexing film. 5 stars
11/03/03 John I want my money back 1 stars
11/02/03 Suzz Overrated. I read the book; film lacked power and surprise. 3 stars
11/02/03 malcolm Penn does his best DeNiro; what a cast! 3 stars
11/02/03 carly seen "sleepers" much? this has all been done before. total pap bullshit. 2 stars
11/02/03 Doc Terrible. A full hour too long; terrible editing; flat characters; SLOW, DULL, BORING! 1 stars
10/30/03 melvyn masterful....well cast...psychological depth. 5 stars
10/26/03 Brent Great fillm, a must see for film lovers 5 stars
10/26/03 Edler Dumb story. Lots of pretentious scenes. Resolution of the mystery bites. 3 stars
10/25/03 Heather Drowning in Grief and Murky Waters 2 stars
10/20/03 Will Oscar worthy effort, Great acting and taulty directed. 5 stars
10/20/03 Grzmlyk Most overrated acting and direction since "Philadelphia." Not one believeable moment. 1 stars
10/20/03 David Great Show, here's to more films with unanswered questions when the lights come up! 4 stars
10/20/03 Vince Yeah. 3 stars
10/19/03 blue i loved it 5 stars
10/19/03 R.W. Welch Expert direction and acting. Plot line has a couple weak spots. 4 stars
10/19/03 Graham Film of the year so far 5 stars
10/18/03 john wonderful acting and story without the pat, trite stuff ya sometimes see in 'who done its' 5 stars
10/17/03 Nunzeo aweful. people actually got up and left. major disappointment 1 stars
10/16/03 Justin C. Ayd This picture had absolute perfect direction, the acting, it was amazing. 5 stars
10/15/03 lycan better than Blood Work, but then, most movies are... 3 stars
10/10/03 Wendy Read the book and it was phenomenal. See the movie. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Oct-2003 (R)
  DVD: 08-Jun-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  20-Nov-2003




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