Clint Eastwood is a uniquely self-possessed director in the face of short-attention-span modern Hollywood. He isn't afraid to take his time telling a story, letting it breathe like a good wine and thereby making it feel more like life than a movie, as the winds of emotions and atmosphere blow through each scene.
His more profound dramas aren't just set in a place and time -- they take you there. This is true of the cruel, muddy underbelly of the Old West in "Unforgiven," it's true of the sleepy, humid, esoteric mint-julep charm of Savannah in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," and it's true of the downtrodden, blue-hued, 24-hour dusk of South Boston -- and the psychological wreckage of the characters therein -- in his tragic new mystery "Mystic River."
The story is of three distant childhood friends whose lives collide back together, after 25 years, with the murder of one man's daughter. But that murder doesn't come in the opening scene or even in the opening reel. Eastwood and screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential," and Eastwood's "Blood Work"), who adapted a novel by Dennis Lehane, first linger in the lives and street-stickball memories of Jimmy (Sean Penn), a bottled-up ex-con fiercely devoted to his family; Sean (Kevin Bacon), an exacting homicide detective; and Dave (Tim Robbins), whose kidnapping by a sexual predator when the boys were young shook their friendship and shaped their lives, leaving Dave an meek, unstable wreck of a man with demons at play in his subconscious.
Continue reading: Mystic River Review