Mystic River Review

Out of all the film’s director Clint Eastwood has crafted, Mystic River is the most frustrating and spectacular of all. It has such great moments within it, but they are wrapped in a blanket of oozing, horrendously thought-out intentions. Where great characters come together, they stumble through their fixations. Childhood friends with dark and gritty lives, people who have outgrown one another yet are changed, for better or worse, by another tragedy that brings them back together. Mystic River is in good hands, it has horrible intentions and strikes a chord with them clearly and quickly, but those darker moments are never mused on effectively even with such great performers at the helm.

By far the greatest struggle is that corroboration of past and present. Mystic River brings three friends back together and understands the severely icy relationship between these once close confidants. Eastwood presents this as an opportunity for the growth of anguish and grief. Compelling these moments are, they would not work without Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon at the forefront. With such strong performances, it would be rather difficult to derail this stunningly well-cast train. Eastwood gives it a go regardless. His direction is stuffed full of cliché, the romanticisation of powering through grief with violence never gives credence to the wider thoughts such an opportunity should bring.

He would perfect that formula later on with Gran Torino, but that has issues beyond how his characters deal with their grief and why it matters so much. These characters are stricken by different layers of not just sorrow, but of guilt also. It is a shame the climax does not give audiences the real gut-punch they need. Eastwood seems confused, and the events that click the blow-out and tragedy together are fine enough, it is where they meet and share opportunities that are confusing most of all. Penn gives a remarkable performance, but why, where and how he shifts his tone and character is lost, not because of his role, but because of where Eastwood wishes to focus. Nowhere in particular, sadly, and the end result is a strong core with some suggestive bits of thrilling ideas that are never expanded upon in a way that connects the fragile realities with the sudden twists and turns. We can only ask so much of one director, who nails the implications and terror, but never manages to convincingly tie it together with the rest of what he has to show.

Genuinely horrifying at times, but the pay-off strangles the emotional intent, especially towards that inevitably sentimental end. Mystic River is a collection of incredible performances, strong ideas and intense storylines. They would be stronger without the fades to black that set them up, the crossovers that round it all up and it’s all because of the uneven filmmaker behind the camera. Bless him, he has tried, and Eastwood straddles the emotional strengths of his work well here, but not well enough. Here are families, entwined by grief and horror, pulling one another apart. It would be more believable, more engaging, if it didn’t try to do so much. Robbins, Penn and Bacon make for a formidable trio, but it is a near wasted opportunity in Mystic River.

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