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October 27, 2003


Mystic River: So this is what passes as a masterpiece nowadays.

mystic river
Amy and I took a chance on Mystic River on Saturday, what with all the hype. It's a shade more coherent than Eastwood's other movies, but it still occasionally suffers from Eastwood's trademark stilted narrative methods and tacked-on scenes that have you wondering, mid-scene, Why is this in the movie?

Eastwood and his screenwriter apparently misheard the old writing axiom that goes "Show, don't tell," and so we end up with all this dialogue that tells us exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling. When one character returns home from killing someone, one of the first things he says (weepily) to his wife is, "[Violence] makes you feel like...an alien." (From context, you gather he means "alien" in the existential sense, not the extraterrestrial one.) Is this the sort of thing that a working-class guy from Southie says to his wife after murdering someone? Later on, this same character is meditating on his mental condition while watching a vampire movie. He tells his wife how he's undead...JUST LIKE THE VAMPIRES. Got it? Want me to repeat it? Ok, he repeats it. Elsewhere, Sean Penn spends like 5 minutes on camera crying for his daughter and then says to Tim Robbins, who's been uncomfortably trapped there (like us) the whole time, "I haven't cried for my daughter yet." And what does Tim say? You got it: "You're crying for her now..." NO SHIT, TIM. Later, we get needless detailed explications of why each character acts the way they do, and everybody sits around wondering aloud how their life would be different if they, instead of another character, had been abducted back in the day. And the character who was abducted spends most of his time explaining to everyone how getting sexually abused when you're 10 can mess you up. In other words, everything the movie needs to do implicitly, it does explicitly instead, and everything it needs to be explicit about, it just completely ignores. For instance, the now-nearly-notorious "Lady Macbeth" scene at the end where Laura Linney is bloodthirstily supportive of her husband. If Clint had given Laura maybe 15 seconds of character development elsewhere in the movie, maybe this scene would have made sense. As it is, it is so tacked on, it feels like it's from another movie. (Relatedly, I will give you one millions dollars if you can answer this question: Why on earth is there a parade at the end of this movie?? ) Likewise, had Clint given his murderer another 20 seconds of screentime -- somewhere, anywhere -- maybe the 'reveal' of the murderer's identity would have had some kind of emotional impact, instead of feeling like the character was the one who pulled the short straw at the read-through. (Here's our earlier post on this topic.)

When it comes to their acting, most of the actors are hamstrung by the too-obvious script and so, oddly, don't end up with much depth in their performances. Tim Robbins probably comes out the best, and he pretty much nails the Boston accent, even if its working-classness is at odds with some of his erudite dialogue. While Kevin Bacon is his usual cool cucumber, it's Penn who really chews up the scenery and asks for seconds.

Sean Penn's performance in this film is like I Am Sam crossed with She's So Lovely and it inherits none of the finer traits of the latter. Instead, Penn grimaces desperately and keens and weeps and bays his lines like an elderly cow with a bad case of constipation. His physical demeanor doesn't do much to offset the overtness of his vocal performance. Acting is twitching, Sean shows us. As Amy says, every time we get a 5-minute look at Sean going off the deep end, you can practically hear the director saying to the audience in hushed tones, "Shhhh! Sean Penn is ACTING now. Shhhh!"

Stylistically, the film is basically what you'd expect, lots of gritty shots of South Boston, with maybe some more aerial shots than you figured on. (Guess the studio figured they had nothing to worry about budget-wise with Eastwood and his star-studded cast on board -- may as well spend the extra cash on helicopters.) But maybe Clint used those helicopters to pull off the one implicit symbolic reference in the movie. You know how the three men in the film are all sort of "lost boys"? Mystic River ends with one of those sweeping helicopter shots of the camera going over water at a 45-degree angle. What movie opens with exactly the same shot, except backwards? You got it...The Lost Boys. If I combine that one with the earlier vampire reference, I think I'm really on to something here.

ps. If you want to see a decent movie about the way that working-poor neighborhoods in Boston mess you up, check out Denis Leary and Ted Demme's Monument Ave. It's not necessarily great, but it's a lot more subtle than Mystic River.

categories: Movies
posted by adm at 1:18 AM | #


Finally someone brave enough to demystify the horrendously over-hyped Mystic River!! I was beginning to think I was the only one who could see that the emperor wasn't wearing clothes! This movie was implausible, condescending, and disappointing. Its only saving grace was the fine cast who did their best with a very sophmoric script. Thanks for your review--it's the first real review of this movie I've seen.

Posted by: Casey at January 29, 2004 3:19 PM

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