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Mystic River

A Drama of Biblical Proportions

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating

By Jurgen Fauth

Mystic River

Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon in "Mystic River"

Clint Eastwood movies force themselves on you like Shakespearean tragedies, like Biblical tales of sin, revenge, and redemption. From the first minor-chord notes of the Clint-composed score to the star-studded credits, Eastwood movies exude gravitas. Resistance is futile.

And so it is with "Mystic River," Mr. Eastwood's 24th feature, a crime thriller based on Dennis Lehane's best-selling novel. Set in a working-class neighborhood of Boston, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon play three childhood friends with a dark, shared history who are reunited by fate.

The past weighs heavily in the lives of these men. Penn's Jimmy is a former criminal who is raising three daughters with his wife Annabeth (Laura Linney), Tim Robbins' Dave has been turned into a shell of a man, and Kevin Bacon's Sean, now a policeman, is tied to the old neighborhood by more than memories. Marcia Gay Harden plays Dave's wife Celeste, who fears for her husband when he comes home bleeding on the night of a terrible crime.

"Mystic River" is expertly crafted and superbly acted, no doubt. Sean Penn in particular gets ample opportunity to screw up his face in grief and fury. All principal actors enjoy juicy moments tailor-made for Oscar consideration, wrenching and unsparing. While I'm sure fans of Clint Eastwood's style will find plenty to love here, "Mystic River" leaves me cold.

Despite of the faultless execution, this ultimately unedifying story of pointless murder is operatic and hopelessly contrived.

Far from being gritty or realistic, the labored drama comes off as overwrought, stylized and less probable than anything in Lars van Trier's "Dogville." For all its skill, "Mystic River" stays safely in the world of melodrama. Cue the violins.
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