July 31, 2022

Mystic River (2003)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins

What it's about. Set in a lower middle class neighborhood in Boston. Ex-con Jimmy (Sean Penn) still hangs out with gangster brothers Val (Kevin Chapman) and Kevin (Robert Wahlberg). Jimmy has a loyal wife, Annabeth (Laura Linney), and a perfect young adult daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum).

Jimmy is childhood pals with Sean (Kevin Bacon) and Dave (Tim Robbins). Sean is now a homicide detective with humorless partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne). Dave is depressive but functional, married with kids to Celese (Marcia Gay Harden).

Katie is murdered. Katie's fiancé, Brendan (Tom Guiry) is suspected but cleared. Circumstantial evidence points to Dave. Jimmy learns that the police suspect Dave, and kills him that very night, while the case is under active investigation by the police.

How others will see it. Mystic River was a box office smash and crushed it on the festival circuit. At the Oscars, it won Best Actor (Penn) and Best Supporting Actor (Robbins), and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Foreign festivals were less generous, but there is no doubt that the film was showered with trophies and nominations.

Today at imdb.com, the movie has a huge 450K user votes and a lofty user rating of 7.9 out of 10. There is no discernible spread among demographics. Of course there are naysayers, but most viwers are thrilled by method actor Sean Penn, an unrecognizable Tim Robbins, and Eastwood's off-screen direction.

How I felt about it. Even if we allow that the casting and acting is great, Mystic River has big problems, mostly with the story.

As a child, how does Dave escape from the basement where he is held prisoner?

Sean and Whitey take enormous stock in what the elderly woman heard outside (but didn't see) from inside her house.

Dave kills a molester on the same night that Katie dies, and he happens to be among the last to see her.

Dave lies about the murder to his wife, yet reveals to her that he killed someone.

Celeste has lived with Dave for many years. Only now, she realizes he is emotionally damaged?

Celeste tells ex-gangster Jimmy that she thinks Dave killed Katie.

Dave's car is "jacked" by "kids who took it for a joy ride." Coincidentally, this occurs while Dave is Whitey's number one suspect in Katie's murder. Wouldn't it have been more credible if Whitey had simply gotten a search warrant for Dave's car?

Jimmy kills Dave, on the same night that Sean happens to get a confession from Harris' kids.

The body of the molester killed by Dave also happens to be discovered the same night.

Harris' kids are firing a rifle in the street for no reason, accidentally shooting a random motorist who just happens to be their older brother's fiancée, who just happens to be eloping to Las Vegas the next day. But wouldn't she attend her sister's communion at church, where she would see Jimmy again? So much for long last looks.

After accidentally shooting Katie, the kids chase her, shoot her in the head, and beat her with a hockey stick. In other words, they commit an incredibly brutal murder to avoid getting charged with accidentally shooting someone in the leg.

Annabeth approves of her husband murdering an innocent person? It shows how strong he is? Is she insane, and if so, why wasn't she that way for the first 90% of the movie?

Why would Jimmy mail a check for $500 every month to Harris' family? Out of guilt? Yet he holds a grudge against the children of the man he murdered.

Jimmy essentially confesses to Sean that he murdered Dave. Dave responds by walking away? And where is his partner, Whitey? They have been inseparable the entire movie.

Sean's wife left town months ago without warning, yet regularly calls him without saying a word? This has continued for months, yet she just happens to finally speak, and decides to come home, on the day after Dave is killed?

Great timing for Sean to show up at the Harris house just as the brothers are about to shoot each other.

One of the problems that dramas tend to have is false drama, whether it comes from unbelievable coincidences (as described above), unexpected character changes (e.g. Dave in the interrogation room, Brendan in the final scene with his brothers, or Annabeth seducing Jimmy after she learns he murdered the wrong man), or characters saying things to each other that they would not (Jimmy confessing murder to Sean, Dave spouting off about vampires in the middle of the night to Celeste).

What we are left with is a great, well directed cast given a story that falls apart under observation. Eastwood should have hired a script doctor. Too bad he didn't.