October 28, 2003

Mystic River - Review

Mystic River

I have mixed feelings when I walk into a theater to see a film based on a book I liked. There's the desperate hope that they don't screw it up royally and take the story far afield. But there's also the knowledge that a film has to stand on its own, apart from the book, and almost any liberties that the filmmakers take are justified if the end result is a film that entertains.

Walking into Mystic River, I had those concerns. But, when I saw Tim Robbins take the screen a few minutes into the film and I saw what kind of acting that the director was getting out of his cast, I relaxed quite a bit. Mystic River goes beyond a film that entertains to a film that stays with you.


If I had the time to write a long review, I'd tell you a lot more about Dennis Lehane. He wrote the book that the screenplay is based on. He's one of my favorite fiction authors -- my favorite writer of gritty detective novels. He co-wrote the screenplay with Brain Helgeland, an Academy Award-Winning screenwriter who graduated from UMass Dartmouth. I don't need to tell you anything, really about the director, Clint Eastwood.

That pedigree put this film on my "Must See" list, and the actors who lined up to take the major roles (Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburn) gives you the idea that this film project got people's attention.

It's the story of three school-age friends living in a neighborhood of Boston who have drifted apart and are brought together years later by a horrible tragedy. Jimmy is the kid from the wrong side of the neighborhood. Sean's father had a white collar job, which made him different somehow. Danny was always on the periphery. In the present, Jimmy is a corner store owner, responsible father and ex-gang leader. Sean is now a state police detective. Danny... we're not too sure about Danny.

Each person must face something inside himself which has been there since childhood but has now come to the surface as a result of the events of one night, when death comes to the neighborhood.

The story is quite good, but it is the characters who drive this film forward. There is an element of mystery, but where many other mystery writers fail in their characters Lehane succeeds, pushing many questions to the back of our minds. We're quite busy feeling the emotions of the characters.

There are some misses in the film, some places where elements of the book could have been left out. I can see the screenwriter's problem, though. There are three main characters in the book and the film sought not to marginalize one of them. A lot of the book happens in the head of characters and Eastwood and gang have done a great job putting those thoughts onto film through dialogue and through the face of Sean Penn in the best performance I can remember.

Mystic River is a movie I find difficult to review. It's the sort of film that is better seen, and discussed afterward. You may want to discuss some of it simply to work out your own emotions.

Posted by James at October 28, 2003 1:01 PM
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