Movie Reviews
3:15 pm
Sat October 18, 2003

Mystic River

Eastwood has a classic here.

I've worked in South Boston, the setting for Clint Eastwood's moody "Mystic River." His place is tidier than I remember, yet he infuses that working-class world with an undercurrent of violence and revenge that I remember more on the surface and at least avoidable. In this film, the sins of parents and the wrongs of childhood follow relentlessly into adulthood. Eastwood has a classic here, a piece of tragic Americana more real and stunningly poignant than "American Beauty" in its expressionism and "Deer Hunter" in its realism.

Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins were all forever changed when as kids Robbins was abducted and abused for several days. Decades later Penn's daughter is murdered and the abused Robbins emerges as a suspect. The plot details are filled with twists enough to keep interest but stretch believability for the purists not interested in slavish adherence to the novel. Although those purists might have liked a different conclusion, and this weakness could keep "Mystic River" from immortality, they will have a hard time denying that this ensemble is the best acting this year or almost any other for that matter. Penn's determination to revenge leaves Uma Thurman from "Kill Bill" still kicking up her heels far behind him in acting chops.

Sean Penn's vindictive father steps back from overacting, opting rather for the crooked lip or darting eye to telegraph his certainty that he will punish his daughter's murderer. When he says, ''We bury our sins, and wash them clean,'' you feel he may be able to make that maxim so.

Kevin Bacon's state trooper is as taut as this body, unfortunately having to put up with the script silliness of his ex-wife's mute calls at unpredictable hours, Eastwood and novelist Dennis Lehane's attempt to parallel in a subplot the loss inherent in the major action. Tim Robbins' deteriorating character is a brilliant piece of understatement, which relies on baggy vacant eyes to show the hurt and anger still crying from his youth.

Although Eastwood may have a more enduring classic in "Unforgiven," "Mystic River" is far superior to his recent "Blood Work" and Midnight in the Garden of good and Evil."

If for nothing else it will remind you how much your childhood is still in your life and how much unparalleled acting can transform a mediocre plot into the almost sublime.