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Sean Penn
Tim Robbins
Kevin Bacon
Laura Linney
Marcia Gay Harden.
Clint Eastwood.
Brian Helgeland.
Running Time
137 minutes

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Mystic River
This taking-the-law-into-your-own-hands thriller marks a genuine return to form for Clint Eastwood's directorial career.

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Driven apart by a childhood trauma, three men meet again when Jimmy's daughter is murdered, cop Sean investigates and loner Dave emerges as a likely suspect. Soon an air of vigilantism begins to poison their Boston neighbourhood.

Mystic River's apology for vigilante action is certainly disturbing, as any notion of guilt is quickly washed away in a rather unconvincing coda. But fans of the director will also breathe a sigh of relief that, after the disappointments of Blood Work, Space Cowboys and True Crime, this marks a genuine return to form.

Two things make Eastwood's task easier for him: a superb cast and a cracking source novel. Dennis Lehane's book is one of the very best thrillers of recent years, richer in Boston detail and closer in character study than anything Eastwood manages to bring to the screen.

That said, Brian Helgeland does redeem himself somewhat after his lacklustre adaptation of Michael Connelly's page-turner Blood Work. The screenwriter seems to understand the ageing director's desire to sacrifice plot pacing for loose, character-based meandering, and so places key points of information and discovery at appropriate intervals in order to keep even the most casual viewer hooked from the first frame.

He's faithful enough to Lehane's original material to also ensure that this story of a lingering human evil, capable of destroying lives in both past and present, retains a degree of moral complexity.

Eastwood takes a break from duties in front of the camera, leaving the stage free for Penn, Robbins and Bacon to strut their stuff. Penn delivers another multi-layered performance as a man in whom rage, grief and honour suffer a head-on collision, while Bacon sheds his psycho baggage as a cop caught in a compromising position.

Robbins, with the toughest role, is worst served by Helgeland's script, which cuts much-needed background from the book. We should find more sympathy for his character, as fate snaps its man-trap jaws around him, but even Robbins' best efforts can't quite fill in the gaps. Dave is supposed to be living proof of the way in which child molestation infects the victim and, by degrees, those closest to him; but by reducing his impact and this theme in the movie, a more routine and far less powerful whodunnit structure emerges in its place.

Nevertheless, the combined efforts of all three actors add psychological weight to the revenge-driven murder mystery. Despite secondary status, the women in the cast also strengthen the show, particularly Marcia Gay Harden's heartbreaking turn as a woman caught between love and disgust as she fears her husband's troubled past has mutated him into a killer.

While not quite the equal of the novel, it's more complex, emotionally-charged and better acted than the average Hollywood thriller.

Reviewed by Alan Morrison

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Mystic River
Empire Star Rating

A powerful, mesmerizing and engaging masterpiece. To my mind, 'Mystic River' is probably Eastwood's finest work (or, at least, one of his top achievements) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 20:16, 17 July 2011 | Report This Post

Excellent movie

A very good movie, one I'd certainly recommend. I do feel that it could have had that little bit extra though. Still highly entertaining. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dahughesy at 17:49, 12 January 2011 | Report This Post

I enjoyed this film but i have to critisize the way it tries to lead the audience down one path that never seems to fit, despite throwing up peices of evidence that make it seem believable, then just throwing a stupid deus ex machina in at the end. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jascott at 14:09, 15 October 2009 | Report This Post

Well done Clint

A modern masterpiece, with a cast that acts to perfection ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cinefile at 10:26, 17 September 2009 | Report This Post

Well done Clint

A modern masterpiece, with a cast that acts to perfection ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cinefile at 10:26, 17 September 2009 | Report This Post

Technically, it’s hard to enjoy Mystic River, what with its disturbing undertones and very depressing subject matter, but it’s even harder to detest, what with Penn, Robbins and Bacon (to name a few) and the excellent execution of its accomplished director. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Romarth at 12:51, 29 March 2009 | Report This Post

Excellent ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by at 11:44, 07 April 2008 | Report This Post

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