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Mystic River

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/23/04 14:55:50

"A moody tale of loss, guilt, and revenge, powerfully performed."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

While far from a perfect movie, Mystic River is a haunting and absorbing work of great emotional power that is well worthy of its Oscar nods. I had great trepidation about how Brian Helgeland's screenplay might turn out, given his spotty track record (L.A. Confidential, on the one hand, and Kevin Costner's The Postman, on the other), but here he has crafted a taut script that succeeds on its own merit while still doing justice to Dennis Lehane's source novel.

The actors are stunning all around - and perfectly paired. It is always a pleasure to see Tim Robbins and Marcia Gay Harden at work, and they are riveting here, Robbins as Dave Boyle, a gray ghost of a man whose careworn face and weary, shuffling walk reflect a childhood horror that has colored his entire life, and Harden as his haunted, terrified wife Celeste, who is thrown into a crisis that overwhelms her. Likewise, Sean Penn and Laura Linney are superb as Jimmy and Annabeth Markum, grieving parents who seem to transform before our eyes into icy latter-day Macbeths.

Even Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne seem a well-matched "couple," as, respectively, Sean Devine and Whitey Powers, police detectives falling into that natural rhythm unique to partners who have worked together for years and know each other perhaps even better than spouses do.

My one big complain about Mystic River the film is that, in the adaptation, Helgeland got sloppy with dates and ages, to the point that it got intrusive, for me. The childhood event at the heart of the book was supposed to have taken place 25 years earlier, when the boys were about 10. Helgeland apparently left that detail in place, as there was a mention made about the men being in their mid-30s. At another point, however, a comment was made about a peer of the boys having been born in 1957, which would have put the men in their mid-40s and, in the bargain, been more accurate to the ages of the actors who portrayed them. (Robbins and Bacon were both born in 1958; Penn in 1960.) It is a small niggle, I suppose, but it still rankled, somewhat like a set decoration that just didn't fit.

One small detail I thoroughly enjoyed was the appearance of Eli Wallach in a cameo as a liquor store owner. Having recently screened The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, it was fun to "see" Clint and Eli together again.

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