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:: Mystic River

After a series of rather disappointing films like Blood Work, Space Cowboys and True Crime, Clint Eastwood has once again made a film with depth and resonance. The fact that he’s assembled a magnificent cast instead of taking the lead himself as he usually does, complete with improbably young love interest, helps.

Sean Penn plays Jimmy Markum and he acts his heart out. His grief is infectious when he finds out that his nineteen-year-old daughter has been murdered. Kevin Bacon plays Sean Devine, a policeman investigating the crime and an old friend of Jimmy’s. He does the best he can with a fairly straightforward role and is let down by the serious miscasting of his estranged wife. The element that makes this more than just a murder mystery is Dave Boyle, played by Tim Robbins, the third in this trio of childhood friends who were torn apart by a tragedy when they were young and forced down the paths that led to death.

The wives of these three men have significant roles, even though their screen time is limited. This explains how Eastwood was able to attract an Oscar winner and a nominee respectively, with Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney to the roles, and they wring the juice out of their scenes. Harden is particularly haunting in the final scenes.

The script was adapted by Brian Helgeland from a novel by Dennis Lehane and is certainly a leap forward from the cliched ruin of Blood Work, but still does not reach the heights of LA Confidential. There’s a lot of very clumsy exposition and the cop dialogue is so well trodden you could recite it a beat before the actors do.

The emotional terrain of a father struggling to deal with his daughter’s death, and knowing that his own sins have made it inevitable, is deeper than most films of this genre. Eastwood is once again exploring violence the way he did in Unforgiven. It is not just disposable entertainment. It has consequences. It hurts. His languid, sometimes plodding style supports the weight these characters are struggling under. His straightforward shooting, long takes, lots of close ups, unobtrusive camera work, allow the story to come to the fore, and while it is not the greatest film in the careers of either director or actors, it is a solid, intriguing piece of work.