Thursday movie review time, with a look at the somewhat disappointing Mystic River:
“Mystic River” comes with a heavy pedigree.
It was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning two of them. It was directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, and features some of America’s top actors in its cast. It’s based on a best-selling, acclaimed novel.
I know I’m out of sync with most critics on this one, because, for all that, it’s a somewhat stiff, bitter movie that feels created to win awards, rather than win over audiences.
The dark “Mystic River” is about pain and death and what it does to the survivors. Three boys grew up together in lower-class Boston, and one of them was kidnapped and abused as a child.
Now all grown up, the three have taken very different paths — Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con liquor store owner who still has “connections” in the underworld, while his old buddy Sean (Kevin Bacon) has become a cop. The abuse victim, Dave (Tim Robbins), is a hollow shell of a man, still living in the neighborhood near Jimmy.
When Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, it sets off a chain reaction of grief and vengeance in the neighborhood. Jimmy wants revenge upon whoever killed his girl — no matter what the cost. The murder brings out the best, and the worst, in the three grown boys and their families.
“Mystic River” feels like several movies at once — a police procedural, a revenge thriller, a domestic drama. There are some gripping, effective parts, but other sequences feel clumsy and overwrought.
The highlight is Robbins, Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor, who gives a haunting performance of a man wounded by abuse.
Penn, despite winning the Oscar for Best Actor, chews the scenery a little too much here. It’s good acting, yes, but I found his character very unsympathetic and unlikable, a problem when he’s supposed to be the center of the film.
A veritable parade of great actors, including Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden and Laurence Fishburne, all contribute mightily to “River.” Bacon, too, is forceful and dynamic as a flinty detective trying to forget his past.
It’s all put together very prettily, but I can’t escape the feeling I was watching actors maneuver on a stage. It’s very cynical about human nature, and somehow lacks a natural feel.
The ending, particularly, comes out of left field, resolving an intricate mystery with a bit of a cheat that seems suited to a bad Sam Spade novel. Like “21 Grams,” another over-praised movie starring Penn from last year, “Mystic River” is a fairly routine story made palatable by good actors.
Eastwood’s best work as a director, to me, remains “Unforgiven,” which was equally dark but attained a kind of iconic power the straining “Mystic River” doesn’t quite reach. It wants to be the “King Lear” of crime thrillers, but it’s not quite there.
**1/2 of four.