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Mystic River (2003)

by The Movie Diorama

Mystic River continuously outflows its poignant crime investigation through a meticulously gritty screenplay. The past haunts us. Experiences and encounters, grossly susceptible and an impressionably young age, returning viciously with psychological detriments. A naive boy that just didn’t know any better. Abducted. An unresolved mystery that manifested itself into an intricately societal Massachusetts neighbourhood, where one disturbance can erupt into a multitude of hatred from the cold concrete beneath them.

A father’s daughter mercilessly murdered in the streets that he, and his two ex-friends, played hockey in. Anguish. Guilt. Vengeance. His childhood pals, one assigned the task of searching for the killer and the other forced into battling his own justifications for not murdering her, sending their condolences to the grieving father. Yet, Mystic River refuses to tell a simple crime drama. Eastwood, with his insatiably concise attention to the screenplay, elevated the mystery by providing an illustration of emotive complexity. One that many inflict upon themselves. Torment. These three individuals, with one visibly undergoing traumatic bewilderment, exhume indications of self-torment.

Mystic River does not flow water. The elaborate dialogue is too viscous for the aqueous substance. Rather, it flows blood. Bacon’s detective role combating his duties as a justice seeker, with the liabilities of adolescent friendship. Determining the fate of neighbours within his hands. Robbins’ psychologically damaged husband role, fabricating stories to protect his moral high ground. And Penn’s award-winning performance as the father, embroiled in a plethora of intense emotions that express the full journey of bereavement. As separate souls, these three give life to Helgeland’s script that, whilst frequently becomes overwrought with unnecessary conversations that repeat earlier information, undeniably captivates with its foundational strength in investigation building.

Eastwood takes a differing approach. Instead of the classic yet saturated “who dunnit!?” narrative structure, he settled for displaying the mechanisms of detective fieldwork. Composing a timeline but questioning witnesses and suspects. Revisiting evidence to accurately imagine the murder as it happened. See, Mystic River works not for its “twists” and “turns” so to speak, but for its richly developed characters and constant focus on the investigation itself. The sensational performances, acute direction and gritty aesthetics provide the script with leverage. It exposes the rawness of the situation beautifully. Not to mention the exquisite pacing that made two and a half hours flew by quicker than a hockey stick crashing down a raging waterfall.

The conclusion should’ve been tighter, with Eastwood diminishing much of the staying power by unnecessarily extending its resolution. By simply ending on Jimmy and Sean coming to terms with what’s just happened, it enables the shock of its ending to simmer much more violently than Linney exclaiming how everyone else is weak compared to her and her husband.

So whilst not perfect, Eastwood adapts Lehane’s novel with a sense of emotional urgency. Once the grit settles in, it never lets up, taking you on a roaring ride down a river of torment.