[MOVIE REVIEW]A disturbing mystery, spoiled by its solution“Mystic River,” which, at least superficially, is a murder mystery, offers such a preposterous resolution to that mystery that your first reaction is to write the whole experience off as two hours of your life you won’t get back.
This resolution, which involves a coincidence of eye-rolling dimensions, is presumably in the novel the movie was based on, so you probably can’t blame director Clint Eastwood for it. Indeed, the information is delivered so quickly that you suspect Eastwood didn’t want to dwell on it either.
Despite this flaw ― and it’s a devastating flaw ― “Mystic River” is a disquieting movie, aspects of which may linger unbidden in your thoughts for days afterward. There are painful and disturbing things here, questions that don’t have comforting answers.
Set in a working-class Boston neighborhood, the film opens in the 1970s with three boys playing street hockey, who, after losing yet another ball to the sewer, look around for the next thing with which to fend off the boredom. It’s a square of still-wet sidewalk concrete, into which they start writing their names. A car pulls up, and the driver ― flashing a badge ― demands to know what they think they’re doing. He hectors one of the boys into the car; by the time it’s pulled away, our uneasy suspicion that the driver isn’t a cop has solidified into certainty.
This is only the introduction to the story, but it hangs over everything else that happens. The bulk of “Mystic River” takes place in the present, when the three boys have grown up to be an ex-con (Sean Penn), a detective (Kevin Bacon) and a haunted, shambling guy who seems never to have recovered from what his abductors did to him (Tim Robbins). They come back into each other’s lives when Penn’s daughter turns up murdered, the investigation falls to Bacon, and Robbins begins to look like a suspect.
All three of these performances are rich and subtle. It goes mostly unspoken, but it’s clear that the crime against Robbins didn’t affect only him; this is somehow evident in the way that these three have stayed distant over the years, yet have a connection that Penn and Bacon seem reluctant to think about. What if one of the other boys had gotten into that car? Worse to contemplate, was there something about the young Robbins ― some weakness ― that the predator saw?
It’s a particular shame that the explanation of the murder makes you stop believing in what you’re seeing, because until then, everything about the movie ― the admirable performances, the dead-on evocation of a perhaps-too-tightly-knit blue-collar Catholic neighborhood ― earns your belief. Had it not been for that, this might have been the crowning achievement in Eastwood’s career that many critics are saying it is.
by David Moll