The boys grow into men through the cracks in the cement.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis    

           “Mystic River” is soaked in Clint Eastwood’s personal authenticity.  The man himself hasn’t shown a phony emotion in the five decades since he played Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide.”   As a gifted director, he draws that same quality from his actors.  Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney are among the finest actors of their generation, and it’s an easy bet that they all signed on for this film because of Clint Eastwood.  This is a crime/detective story where the actors bore to the core of every character and by the closing scene, everyone in this story stands emotionally naked. 

From start to finish, we are immersed in a blue-collar neighborhood in South Boston where a tragedy unfolds that will affect the lives of three friends forever.  As the movie opens, three boys - Sean (Kevin Bacon), Jimmy (Sean Penn), and Dave (Tim Robbins) - are playing street hockey when two men jump from a car to kidnap Dave.  After that destruction of childhood innocence, the three grow up carrying inside a steel ball of grief and guilt that affects everything they do.  Too young to work through the tragedy together, they drift apart, unable to face in each other the reminders of that day on the street.  The boys grow into men through the cracks in the cement. 

Years later, the three are thrown together again when Jimmy’s beloved daughter Kate is murdered in the neighborhood where Sean, and his partner Whitey (Mr. Fishburne) are the cops in charge of the investigation.  Sean must deal with both the search for the murderer and the mountainous rage of his old friend Jimmy.  When Dave becomes a suspect and a target, we remember the three little boys as we watch three adult men torn apart by the childhood damage that never healed.  These men now have the emotional and physical force to hurt each other further.  Driven as the movie now is by Jimmy’s determined vengeance, the rhythm becomes nearly unbearable.

The women in this story are peripheral characters until the final stretch when Marcia Gay Harden (Celeste) and Laura Linney (Annabeth) unleash some towering acting that shows the full power of these two East Boston wives.  Their performances are all the more startling because, bold as they are, they enhance, rather than ruin, the awful momentum that is under way. 

As if Clint Eastwood didn’t do enough in casting, directing, and producing this harrowing movie, he also wrote the music and arranged for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus to record the score. It appears that this director, who loves to explore big themes that are often powered by violence, is also a gentle lightning rod who draws hugely talented actors who can’t wait to work with him.  Their work and his palpable presence have produced one of the best films and some of the finest performances of this year.

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