|Mystic River is a difficult movie to understand once the closing credits start to roll and the three main characters have experienced the harsh realities of a friendship torn apart by a murder of one of their children. The performances are beyond reproach and the dialogue is well constructed and excellently delivered. But it is just so perplexing when the characters don't speak. During the last few minutes of the film, the dialogue becomes non-existent and the film just seems to journey beyond what is really required of the story, the characters, or the plot.|
A succinct ending is abandoned for dark looks and gestures between the characters. What are the characters trying to say through these glances? What are their motives? Is the ending supposed to leave the audience wondering what these characters might do in the future? Has screenwriter Brian Helgeland left the door open to a sequel? His talent with dialogue is evident in every scene, but the story is just so convoluted in the end, when really, it shouldn't be, given that the relationships between each of the characters are laid out rather clearly just a few scenes prior. Laura Linney's character in particular throws the entire operation on its ear in one of the last scenes, when she gives an extended speech to her husband that just makes no sense and seems to come out of the blue. It's not a motivated speech in the least.
While the entire film is constructed with an emphasis on creating a leisurely route to the finish, the film still should have rounded up its final scenes in a more expeditious manner. It's clear that allowing the actors free reign on their characters and showing the full spectrum of what each of those actors is capable of in front of the camera was a high priority for Clint Eastwood in the making of this, his twenty-fourth directorial effort. There are several pregnant pauses over the course of the film that have the power to try the patience of less devoted audience members. It's a very good thing that Sean Penn is so accomplished a dramatic actor, because when the camera just sits on his character as he cries over the death of his daughter, it's not difficult to feel enormous empathy toward the man.
But as Sean Penn is not the sole or complete focus of the film, the audience doesn't have the luxury of watching that fine actor on the screen for the entire 137 minutes of the film. Out of all the characters in the movie, Penn's character is definitely the one with whom the audience will place its initial sympathy. But by the end of the film, everybody's dirty. And after the closing credits, it's difficult to find some emotional or dramatic benefit from the film. What value comes from making a story with no hope, no lesson, and no humor? Human life, even in its darkest moments, has elements of humor. Humans invariably make light of difficult situations. But the people in this film are so serious that it's difficult believing why they'd ever want to wake up in the morning.
The film is not based on a true story, so the sheer depressiveness of the whole thing isn't required for an adherence to the truth. Is this film's message a lesson about the life of the hard life of Boston's working class? Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon all give impressive performances (each having varied success in pulling off a working class Boston accent) and it's difficult to criticize a group of actors who fully embody their roles. Sean Penn is "Jimmy Markum" and he never allows the audience to forget it. His performance and his character are unforgettable and through all of the confusion in the end, his personality is still a great force in the film.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lahane, Mystic River unveils its story with an eye toward character development, using the story of three troubled men and how their difficult lives test their once strong friendship as background fodder. It's not necessarily a bad thing that a film would concentrate on character rather than the plot, but the two elements in this film seem so disconnected at times. The performances are stark, powerful, and affecting, even if the story surrounding them results in an enigma for the audience. Clint Eastwood has a powerful eye for direction, Brian Helgeland possesses an ear for interesting dialogue, and every one of the actors makes a strong impression on the viewer. Mystic River is a difficult movie to watch, but a few rewards are there if you're patient enough to wait for them.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.