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Mystic River (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Mystic River: From Page to Screen; Theatrical trailer.

IT HAS often been noted that Clint Eastwood is at his finest when playing, or tackling, subjects about people who exist in a moral grey zone. Anti-heroes, if you will, who insist on taking matters into their own hands, or those who refuse to play by the rules.

His Dirty Harry persona is a classic example of a cop who broke every rule, while his Spaghetti western character, The Man With No Name, was morally bankrupt in terms of what he wouldn’t do for self gain.

Unforgiven excelled by taking a look at how past deeds came back to haunt the gunslinger at the centre of the story, serving almost as a metaphor for what may have become of some of his earlier western characters.

With Mystic River, Eastwood once again takes a dip into the murky waters of past crimes, this time looking at its effects on the victims, and has chosen to adapt Dennis Lehane’s gripping novel with the help of frequent collaborator, Brian Helgeland.

The result is a thoroughly gripping, character-driven thriller, which serves to underline just how much of an accomplished director Eastwood has become, while also providing a star vehicle for not one, but four, actors.

The film boasts one of the strongest ensembles in recent memory, with Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne clearly relishing the challenge presented by the material, and the company, along with the likes of Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney.

It begins with the tragic events that will forever shape the lives of three childhood friends, when one of them is duped into taking a car ride with a bogus cop and subjected to four days of rape, before he escapes.

Twenty-five years later, the friends have grown apart, but are thrust back together by another life-altering event - the murder of one of their children.

Penn plays the father in question, whose 19-year-old daughter is found slain in a local park, while Bacon portrays the cop who is assigned to investigate (together with his partner, Fishburne).

Robbins, meanwhile, takes on the difficult role of chief suspect, who is linked to the crime by a series of suspicious circumstances, and whose past, as the child who got into the car at the start of the movie, forces the men to confront all of their collective past demons.

The ensuing ‘whodunit’ is a masterclass in human desperation, which confronts issues of rage, revenge, child abuse and loss in an unflinching and honest way.

Clearly a labour of love for its director, who has gone to painstaking lengths to recreate the novel - and who includes a delightful cameo from former co-star, Eli Wallach - this is a moody, pensive and thoroughly absorbing potboiler, which functions both as a thought-provoking psychological piece and as an ingenious thriller.

Several of the scenes and exchanges between the players bristle with the type of energy usually reserved for the theatre, while the power of the performances serve to ensure that the movie remains with you long after it has delivered its morally ambiguous conclusion.

Penn, especially, delivers a tour-de-force, expertly combining the heartbreaking torture felt by his grieving father with a compulsive desire for retribution that threatens to overshadow all else, and which forces him to rediscover a shady past.

But Bacon is just as strong in the less showier of the roles, as the detective torn between his job and his past loyalties, while Robbins conveys just the right amount of sympathy and suspicion, as a family man still locked in the past, who may just have committed the unthinkable.

And while the women seem a little under-used at times, both Harden and Linney have big parts to play in helping the film to reach its challenging denouement.

Mystic River, in short, is a terrific accomplishment which, for once, provides a fitting showcase for the talents of all involved, and which has to rate as one of the finest movies of the year. Early talk of an Oscar nod is not at all misplaced.

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