2003 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor / Best Supporting Actress

Film #455: Mystic River (2003)

After winning Best Picture for Unforgiven, Oscar’s love affair with Clint Eastwood would continue into the next decade. The next two posts will look at two of those three films with the third being covered later on.

We kick off with a film that Clint directed but never appeared however fact fans may want to know that Mystic River was the first movie that Eastwood scored himself. Eastwood’s score is just one of the many positive elements of Mystic River; a film that I enjoyed immensely on this second viewing. This Boston-set crime thriller revolves around three childhood friends; Jimmy, Sean and Dave all of whom are effected by an event from their past. The event itself is played out in the film’s first three minutes in which Dave is abducted by two men that three boys believe to be cops. Flash forward twenty-eight years later and Dave’s abduction and subsequent abuse have caused him to become quite a slow-witted man. Although it’s clear he loves his son and wife, he’s prone to moments of absence and comes home one night covered in blood. That night happens to be the same one on which Jimmy’s nineteen-year-old daughter goes missing and is eventually found murdered. Jimmy, who is now one of the town’s most respected citizens, uses underhanded tactics to try and discover who the perpetrator was. This annoys Sean who just happens to be the investigating officer on the case and who isn’t willing to believe his partner when he suggests Dave might be the killer. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel perfectly ups the tension as the audience have to wait till the end of the film to learn who the murderer actually is. Therefore Eastwood and Helgeland create a sense of unease which I believe help to make us sympathise with the characters who aren’t quite sure who to trust. This also means that Mystic River’s final twenty minutes are incredibly emotional as revelation after revelation pours out and by the end I was personally left with my heart broken.

As I previously mentioned this is my second time watching Mystic River but, just like a lot of films in this decade, it’s not one that I particularly remember. I’m not quite sure why that is as everything about Mystic River is perfectly delivered from Eastwood’s aforementioned score to Tom Stern’s cinematography which allows the small town to become a character itself. Helegland does a good job of getting through the history between the three characters quite quickly to the extent that we understand why they are how they are. The more sympathetic character is definitely Dave, who has remained almost in a childlike state since his trauma at a young age. Tim Robbins is absolutely great as Dave, capturing the essence of the character beautifully and delivering a particularly stunning turn towards the end of the film. Sean Penn meanwhile gives Jimmy a terrifying demeanour but couples this with a softer side which is on view in the scene where his character learns of the death of his daughter. This scene is particularly iconic thanks to Stern’s framing of the piece and the image of Penn being held back by numerous cops. Both Penn and Robbins won Oscars for their roles in the film but I feel a little sorry for Kevin Bacon who had the job of playing the less flashy role of Sean. I felt that Bacon deserved to at least be recognised for playing an intelligent police officer who occasionally let his heart get in the way of doing his job. Also nominated at the ceremony was Marcia Gay Harden who delivered a memorable supporting performance as Dave’s frightened wife. I also personally liked Laura Linney as Jimmy’s wife who becomes almost like a Lady Macbeth figure in the film’s final ten minutes. Absorbing from beginning to end; Mystic River works as a thriller, a character study and a mystery all at the same time.


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