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Mystic River

I was admittedly a little reluctant to see this movie on a Sunday night, given as I am to hating to see a perfectly good weekend leave me for Monday. I had heard Mystic River was incredibly powerful but equally bleak. Another American Pie, a new Old School; just what I need on Sunday- a movie that questions everything, just in time for the workweek.

It was tough for sure. Mystic River is a slow downward spiral, a knot of movie that starts out tense and continuously pulls until the rope finally snaps, leaving the frayed ends flickering up there on the wall. It was powerful. It was bleak. However, not quite to the degrees it was hyped to deliver. Mystic River is well worth seeing though, as it raises some vived comments on very common, very fundamental human tragedies.

Set not far, but way far from here, on the tangled, tough and insular blocks of South Boston, the movie is at heart an exploration of torment and escape, at varying levels physical, mental and social. Some escapes are more successful than others, most not really at all.

The creative team behind it is what drives this movie-Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and, in what turns out to be probably his best effort behind the camera to date, Dirty Harry himself. One of the coolest moment of this movie is that just as the aforementioned rope snaps, the credits roll: directed by Clint Eastwood.

The story centers on three boyhood and neighborhood friends: Jimmy (Penn), Sean (Bacon) and Dave (Robbins), and opens on a scene that both sets and drives the events to come. The three boys have stopped playing street hockey to carve their names into the wet cement of a new sidewalk. As Dave steps up to place his name under his friends’, a car slowly rolls up with two middle-aged men, apparently plainclothes cops.

They reprimand the boys, and escort Dave into the car to take him home.
Inevitably, the guys were not cops. After four days, Dave escapes and finds his way home, but really, Dave never comes back. The first two letters D-A harden in the sidewalk as a crushing reminder of the interruption of his life.

The majority of the movie takes place with Jimmy, Sean and Dave as grown men, and around the tragic murder of Jimmy’s 19 year old daughter. Sean, the only one of the three boys who has parted from the neighborhood physically, returns as the detective on the case. As Sean and his partner try to reason their way to the killer, Jimmy and his past criminal associates take to their own investigation.

At the center of the boiling chaos of the neighborhood whipped up in accusation and revenge is Dave, living with his torment and clear mental illness. One of the truly powerful parts of this movie for me was Robbins’ incredible, painful, baffled-but-trying-to-fight portrayal of a permanently disturbed victim. He paints a debilitating picture of mental illness, and the sadness that surrounds the fact that there is no hope is his ever being understood, treated, or outrunning his past.

As the investigation tightens, we find that Jimmy’s daughter was planning her own exodus just two days later, with her boyfriend to a new life in Las Vegas. The boy, now with an unspoken sentence to stay in the old neighborhood, had his father taken from him years before by Jimmy, for testifying in a trial.

If taken at a distance, the degree of entanglement between the characters in “Mystic River” could border on ridiculous. However, in the suffocating environment that Eastwood and the cast evoke, the interrelation is plausible and serves as the grinding, corrosive force that leaves these characters daughterless, insane, fatherless or simply lost.

Perhaps two lines best sum up the journey of this movie. First, about halfway through, while mourning his daughter, Jimmy says ‘I know in my soul I contributed to your death, but I don’t know how’. And finally, in the closing Sean wonders out loud: ‘Sometimes I think we’re all little kids, trying to find our way out of a locked basement’..

October 27, 2003
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