Clint Eastwood’s abysmal eyes and their searing glare are a
surefire means of weakening even the most resolute of characters.
His look begs you to wonder whether there’s any humanity left under
his weathered, battle-tested skin. After seeing “Mystic River,” his
newest directorial effort, the answer is a definite and resounding
“yes.”

Janna Hutz
See that? I thought only assholes used the word pansy. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Set in present day South Boston, “Mystic” tells the story of
Jimmy (Sean Penn), Dave (Tim Robbins) and Sean (Kevin Bacon). As
youths, the three inseparable boyhood friends are torn apart when
Dave is abducted by kidnappers, tortured and sexually abused.

He survives the ordeal, but the friends grow apart with time.
Only when Jimmy’s daughter is mysteriously murdered years later are
they brought back together; their reunion, however, is not for
better. Sean is the homicide detective on the case, and his
investigation only rekindles past problems and demons that
eventually lead to tragedy.

This story is ideal for Eastwood’s exploration of pain and
misfortune, for his keen observations on the frailty of people that
he understands so well. If setting can be set aside, this movie is
much like his great westerns: at once a probing character study and
simple morality tale about friendship and the problems of pain and
heartbreak.

The setup is fraught with anticipation, as all the guys
initially seem to be leading lives of contentment and comfort in
their boyhood borough. Something is bound to go wrong. The
introduction of the murder and the downward spiral into the film’s
dark bowels is done wonderfully by Clint and co. In a scene
reminiscent of the closing baptism in “The Godfather,” shots of
Jimmy’s daughter’s first communion and his other daughter’s murder
scene are spliced and juxtaposed brilliantly by editor Joel
Cox.

Once pain enters the equation, it inexorably remains. “Mystic”
drags all the skeletons out of its characters’ closets and allows
them to deliver Oscar-worthy individual performances. Penn plays
Jimmy with unyielding force and aggression, as he balances his
craving for vigilantism and vengeance and attempts to sidestep his
criminal past. Robbins hides his love away as Dave and shows all
the scars that we’d expect to see in a victim of such abuse. And
Bacon delivers Sean as an ambivalent friend, trying hard to balance
an obligation to buddies with one to the law, all the while
attempting to recover his lost love life with his estranged
wife.

The supporting cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay
Harden and Laura Linney, is nearly as remarkable as the leads, and
the roles are surely as emotive and personal as could be expected.
It’s these characters that are the outstanding factor in “Mystic,”
the personal, sympathetic individuals that we all understand so
well, and that Eastwood understands even better.

Rating: 5 stars

 

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