Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is a movie that you have all figured out by the end of the first act. But the film is done so well that you don’t care, and you end up feeling that you’ve seen a great movie. Eastwood’s direction is reserved and refuses to call attention to itself, allowing the marvelous acting of the primary five actors to move to the forefront.
The plot is simple. As children, Sean, Jimmy, and Dave are playing hockey in the street and writing their names in wet cement when Dave is abducted by two child molesters and only manages to escape four days later. Flash forward to the present, where the boys are now in their late 30s, and Jimmy’s nineteen-year-old daughter is murdered, an event that causes the three old friends who have sense become estranged to cross paths again. On the night of the murder, Dave arrives home covered in blood and presents a conflicting explanation to his wife, causing us to question whether he committed the murder. And Sean is a cop assigned to the case.
Everyone in the movie seems to be harboring some sort of dark secret. Dave (Tim Robbins) has emerged from his captivity a changed man. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con who’s gone straight, yet a sense of malice hangs over everything that we know about him. And Sean (Kevin Bacon) has a wife who has left him, and who frequently calls but won’t say a word.
As with most murder mysteries, it isn’t too hard to figure out where the narrative is going. It’s too obvious to assume Dave is the killer because he is covered in blood, so the rest of the film is one of dramatic irony: though we aren’t exactly sure what happened, we are absolutely sure of what didn’t.
Tim Robbins has the most wrenching role. One feels sorry for him since he has never been the same since his abuse, but there is a violent side to him that frightens you. Marcia Gay Harden (Dave’s wife Celeste) and Laura Linney (Jimmy’s wife Annabeth) both give stellar performances and the relationship between husbands and wives is a powerful component of the story. Celeste is quick to doubt Dave’s story involving the blood and ultimately she betrays him, while Annabeth is quick to exonerate Jimmy’s misdeeds, a role that is akin to Lady Macbeth.
A wrenching film, Mystic River’s actors well deserved their Academy Awards. And despite the somewhat conventional murder mystery narrative, the depth of the characters and the fantastic performances make this a film worthy of your time.