When labeling a movie a thriller, most would envision a certain formula. A murder leads to an obvious suspect. But wait! Climactically, this suspect is vindicated with obscured details that point decisively to the most harmless or uneventful character in the film. A second outcome could be more manipulative. The uneventful character is really innocent and the original suspect was the bad guy all along. For originality, multiple personalities could be added to the canvas. Simple. Nevertheless, to call Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” (Warner Brothers) simply a thriller is misleading; it is resiliently a human drama with complexity and dimension rarely seen in the simplified formulas of modern day thrillers.
“Mystic River” begins with innocence lost. Two Bostonian boys, Jimmy (Sean Penn) and Sean (Kevin Bacon), witness their friend Dave (Tim Robbins) being kidnapped before becoming victim to molestation. Twenty-five years later, tragedy reunites them once again when Jimmy, a rehabilitated criminal, loses his daughter to murder. Suspiciously, a blood-drenched Dave returns to his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) the same night of the killing. Sean, now a homicide detective, must investigate the crime while simultaneously suppressing Jimmy’s search for retribution.
This may sound a lot like a typical thriller, but the plot is more complex and sustained by compelling characters constantly teetering between the good and evil of human nature. Nonetheless, a good story could not be told without good storytellers.
Clint Eastwood’s directorial intuition does justice to screenwriter Brian Helgeland’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel. He does not use fast-paced, stylized editing, but rather, uses the camera more as an omniscient observer of the tragic events taking place in this uniquely grayish Boston setting. Eastwood not only trusts the story to stand on it own, but also depends on the abilities of his cast to communicate the dimensional nature of their characters. This is an understandable decision.
Mystic River’s ensemble is every director’s wet dream. Once again, Sean Penn flexes one of the most powerful performances of his career, Bacon is superb, Tim Robbins does a commendable job (despite his shaky Boston accent), and Marcia Gay Harden delivers a convincing portrayal of a doubtful housewife.
Moreover, this movie is a must see. It lingers in your mind for days. It is definitely one of the best films of the year and surely a contender in this years Academy Awards.