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Mystic River

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Released 2003. Director: Clint Eastwood

CLINT EASTWOOD'S ADAPTATION OF DENNIS LEHANE'S NOVEL is characterised by a brooding, riveting, ominous sense of mystery. Men who carry an anguished memory of childhood trauma lug the consequences into their adulthood like the weight of an invisible anchor. Eastwood examines the ghosts in their conscience, fleeting and returning like shadows across an open window.

Mystic River is Shakespearean tragedy transposed to a working-class neighbourhood in Boston. On an ordinary day, young Jimmy, Sean and Dave are playing in the street when two men who claim to be cops take Dave away. But the men are not cops and they rape Dave till the boy escapes four days later.

The childhood trauma is what binds the boys and drives them apart in their adulthood. Eastwood keeps the emotional measure high as the three of them, now grown men some 30 years later, find themselves once again inextricably connected by the murder of Jimmy's teenage daughter.

Sean Penn's chilling anger and mournful sorrow is only one aspect in an ensemble of sharp, searing acting from Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney.

While the men seem to hold the control over a murder case that dredges up the darkness in their past, the women exert an uncanny influence on the unfolding of their separate but entwined lives. Three wives, one lives in wordless despair, one becomes Lady Macbeth, and one who for the most part remains a pair of silent lips on the phone brings the last, much needed note of forgiveness.

Mystic River carries a sense of fatality and inevitability, like an unseen hand that moves the people and events on a game board towards the unbearable vigilante act that makes a death on screen as momentous as it can possibly be.

Much like his Oscar-winning Unforgiven (1992), Eastwood is concerned about the morals of kiling another man. "It's never easy," his character in Unforgiven says. That same complex, emotionally-powered vigilantism rises above the water again in Mystic River. Eastwood the consummate director makes it a ripple that touches off a shattering effect.


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