MYSTIC RIVER directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Brian Helgeland from Dennis Lehane's novel, produced by Eastwood, Judie Hoyt and Robert Lorenz, with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney. 137 minutes. A Malpaso production. A Warner Brothers release. Opens Wednesday (October 8). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 109. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Clint Eastwood's Mystic River was the best movie I saw in Cannes this year. That may be a backhanded compliment, given the quality of this year's Cannes selection, but seeing it again last week, it still looks awfully good. This adaptation of Dennis Lehane's best-selling novel by Oscar-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) is a big, brooding chunk of murder mystery packed with angst-laden star performances.
Jimmy, Dave and Sean were boyhood friends. Thirty years later, Jimmy (Sean Penn) owns a corner store but has some unstated interests of an illegal nature, Dave (Tim Robbins) remains haunted by his abduction in childhood, and Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a cop worrying over his wife, who left him without explanation.
When Jimmy's daughter is murdered, Sean comes back to the old neighbourhood, and Dave's been acting awfully strange since he came home the night of the murder with blood all over him.
This is a story of people whose lives unravel quickly, but it plays out slowly, and a lot more weight is given to the acting than is usual in Eastwood's films.
Penn, Robbins and Bacon have never worked with Eastwood before, and, though all are in their 40s, in an Eastwood film that's practically a youth movement. They're also fairly Methody actors, as is Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Dave's wife.
This is a departure for Eastwood, who likes low-maintenance performers like Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, who don't need - or care for - a lot of direction.
Whether Eastwood's suddenly started developing delusions that he's Elia Kazan or he's just hiring actors and letting them rip, Penn, Robbins and Bacon are all in top form here, with striking support from Harden, Laura Linney and Laurence Fishburne.
Linney and Fishburne are almost too big for their parts as Jimmy's wife Annabeth and Sean's partner Whitey, though I suspect the size of their roles may have suffered slightly in order to keep the movie a reasonable length. They do have a great moment together, when Fishburne is in her house and Annabeth gives him a look, and you're not sure if she simply doesn't like a cop in her house or if this isn't a South Boston Irish racist response to having a black man in her living room.
In an era when most Hollywood movies are terrified of not being fast enough for audiences raised on rock video, Mystic River is refreshingly slow. It takes the time to establish and explore the complex relationships between its characters. It makes sure we understand that these are people and situations with weight and consequences. One of the year's best, and Eastwood's best since Unforgiven.
Am I the only person who finds it rather unfair that after weeks and weeks of tepid openings, we're getting new films from Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers all in the same month?