Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapman, Tom Guiry, Emmy Rossum, Spencer Treat Clark
Dennis Lehane (novel), Brian Helgeland
We bury our sins - We wash them clean.
Jimmy. Dave. Sean. Friends who grew up in working-class Boston, they drift apart after a terrible tragedy. Years later, brutal events reconnect them. Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter is coldly murdered. Dave is a suspect. And Sean, now a cop, scrambles to solve the crime before volatile Jimmy takes the law into his own hands.
Working from Brian Helgeland's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel, director Clint Eastwood shapes a masterwork, a brooding thriller built on family, friends and innocence lost. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon play the pivotal threesome, joining Lawrence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney in one of the most powerful casts ever. The river has many depths. Let it wash over you.
$640.815 thousand on 13 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 138 min.
Release Date: 6/8/2004
• Audio Commentary with Actors Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon
• “Mystic River: Beneath the Surface” Documentary
• “Mystic River: From Page to Screen” Documentary
• The Charlie Rose Show Interviews
• Teaser and Trailer
• CD Soundtrack
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
Mystic River: Deluxe Edition (2003)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 7, 2004)
Some years the Oscar race comes down to two movies, both with different profiles. For example, in 1994, critical darling Pulp Fiction lost to the exceedingly popular Forrest Gump. Another split occurred in 1997 between Titanic and LA Confidential, as the aquatic juggernaut submerged the smaller film noir exercise.
Once again, this thread emerged in 2003 with the battle between The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Mystic River. The latter got the support of those without much affection for action/adventure effects extravaganza, but it didn’t matter, as the Rings series was an unstoppable force. And for good reason: the trilogy was a remarkable achievement, and King fully deserved its Oscar victory.
As for Mystic, it presented a good piece of work, but I don’t see it as full competition for the wonders of King. Mystic starts in the mid-Seventies, as we meet three young friends in Boston: Jimmy Markum (Jason Kelly), Sean Devine (Connor Paolo) and Dave Boyle (Cameron Bowen). When they write their names in wet concrete, an older man claims to be a cop and threatens them with punishment. He orders them to get in his car, but only Dave does so. This ends up as a bad mistake, for the man and his friend abduct Dave, imprison and abuse him for four days before the boy manages to escape.
The story then leaps ahead to the present day, where we meet the adult Dave (Tim Robbins). Married to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and with young son Mikey (Cayden Boyd), he still lives in the area and he remains haunted by his abuse. Ex-con Jimmy (Sean Penn) now runs a convenience store and has his own family. He has a 19-year-old daughter named Katie (Emmy Rossum) who came from his deceased first wife. Now remarried to Annabeth (Laura Linney), Jimmy has two younger daughters with her as well. Katie secretly dates Brendan Harris (Thomas Guiry), a local boy for whom Jimmy maintains a mysterious disdain.
The adult Sean (Kevin Bacon) now works as a police detective with his partner Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne). Sean’s wife Lauren (Tori Davis) left him about six months earlier, but he still wants to get back with her. She often calls him but refuses to speak.
Katie goes out with two female friends and gets wild at a bar where Dave also drinks. When he returns home, he has blood on his hands, which he claims occurred because he got mugged and cut by the assailant. Dave tells Celeste he “went off” and fears he killed the mugger.
The next day, Katie doesn’t show up for work at the store, and Jimmy can’t find her. In the meantime, Sean and Whitey investigate a murder we suspect will be the mugger, but learn it’s actually Katie. Sean and Whitey lead the investigation, but Jimmy plans to take matters into his own hands, as he gets local thugs the Savage brothers to check things out on their own.
The movie follows the various threads as they progress. Inevitably, Dave ends up as a suspect, but some concerns emerge that Brendan may be involved. We find out that he and Katie planned to run away to Las Vegas and get married, but other elements point the blame in his direction. We also watch Jimmy and the others attempt to cope with the tragedy.
At its core, I suppose one would have to call Mystic River a “whodunnit”, but in many ways, the mystery elements remain fairly inconsequential. It’s not so much about finding the killer as it is a look at the community’s dark underbelly. We see how they deal with adversity and confront various issues.
One could regard Mystic as an examination of the effects of child abuse, and in that way, it works very well. Usually views of that subject take a blunt tone and bring the topic to the forefront. That doesn’t happen in the elegant Mystic, which prefers to keep the abuse theme as an undercurrent. Most looks at the subject take on the immediate ramifications, but Mystic view the area from the lens of the long-range effects.
It also confronts the topic from the ways it affects those in secondary positions. Traditionally, we should focus on what happened to Dave, but he’s simply one of the group. I should note that it seems odd the Academy looked at Penn as a lead actor and lumped Robbins in the supporting category. Along with Bacon, those two present roles of equal presence; they should all either be lead or supporting, as distinctions make no sense.
In any case, normally Robbins would play the lead in this kind of story, but all three of the men are equal partners. Granted, Bacon gets stuck with the weakest role. He essentially plays Morris the Explainer, as he acts to move along the story and present exposition. We don’t get much feeling for how the past affected Sean, as the character seems somewhat detached from the others. Perhaps that itself offers a statement, as Sean feels he moved on past the neighborhood and the others’ issues, but it still leaves him as the least interesting aspect of the main participants.
The crux of the flick deals with the choices made by Dave and Jimmy as well as their development. Throughout the film, we learn more and more about their pasts and what happened to them over the years. These add texture to the story and really become its heart. While we want to find out who killed Katie, that doesn’t remain the movie’s main emphasis. Instead, we see the ways the men remain affected by their pasts, and the story explores those issues well.
It does help that Mystic enjoys an excellent cast. Both Penn and Robbins won Oscars for their work. I wasn’t tremendously wild about Robbins’ performance, I must admit. He puts a little too much Lenny from Of Mice and Men into Dave, and his portrayal of the scarred man doesn’t always present a great deal of subtlety. Still, Robbins brings an undercurrent of pain that works effectively, and we don’t see Dave as a one-note person. For all his issues, he demonstrates elements that show us how he gets through life, though that torment always remains evident.
Penn received the most attention for his work, and he indeed does a good job. A couple of odd choices occur, but mostly Penn makes the role dark and affecting. He could have made Jimmy a brooding and simple ominous force, but he adds depth and dimensionality to the personality. The character could become basic, but Penn brings a feel of humanity and three-dimensionality to him.
Probably the best aspect of Mystic comes from its general subtlety. Director Clint Eastwood never beats us over the head with his themes or ideas. Instead, he focuses on slices of relationships and the way people interact. We see the scars of the past in an understated way that makes the impact that much greater.
This culminates in a morally ambiguous ending. Will Mystic River go down as a classic? I don’t know about that, but it works well overall. The movie presents an effective examination of abuse and community and seems strong and memorable.
The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B
Mystic River appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. All in all, the DVD presented the material well.
Sharpness always appeared immaculate. Even during extreme wide shots, I found the image to remain nicely crisp and well defined. At no point did I discern any signs of softness or fuzziness in this tight picture. I noticed no concerns connected to jagged edges or shimmering, and I also detected only a little light edge enhancement. Print flaws also seemed absent.
Mystic featured a fairly icy palette. It kept things rather quiet much of the time, as most of the movie seemed subdued and without much vivacity to the colors. Despite the inherently cool look of the film, I felt the DVD replicated the tones quite nicely. The colors appeared clear and distinct at all times, as I saw no signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns. Black levels also came across as dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively heavy. Overall, Mystic River provided a strong visual experience.
In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mystic River served the movie nicely. As one might expect, the majority of the audio tended toward general environmental material. Music demonstrated excellent stereo imaging, and the effects spread out the information well. They didn’t contribute much distinctive material, though, as the movie stayed quiet for the most part. Surround usage tended toward light reinforcement and ambience and rarely became more active than that.
Audio quality seemed very good. At all times, dialogue came across as concise and crisp. I noticed no problems with edginess or intelligibility, as the lines always sounded smooth. Music was appropriately bright and dynamic, as the score and songs seemed nicely reproduced. Effects were also clean and realistic, with no signs of distortion. Bass response seemed firm and concise. The audio of Mystic lacked much ambition, but it remained satisfying.
Spread across two platters, the extras open on DVD One with an audio commentary with actors Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. Although the pair occasionally toss out some nice notes, overall the track seems lackluster. The actors cover subjects such as how they came to the film, shooting in Boston, the atmosphere Eastwood maintains on the set and working with him, and character insights and their approaches to their roles. Some of these elements seem insightful and helpful, but a lot of the time, they do little more than provide general praise for the project and the participants. In addition, a fair amount of dead air occurs. The commentary ends up as a sporadically interesting but erratic discussion.
One oddity about the commentary: although the “R”-rated movie includes plenty of uses of the “F-bomb”, you’ll not hear that word during this track. Robbins utilizes that word a couple of times, but for no reason I can figure, it gets “bleeped” out here.
As we move to DVD Two, we open with a program called Mystic River: Beneath the Surface. In this 22-minute and 45-second documentary, we find a mix of movie shots, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from director Clint Eastwood, author Dennis Lehane, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and actors Robbins, Bacon, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laurence Fishburne.
“Surface” covers subjects such as Lehane’s initial reluctance to sell the book, the adaptation of the story, the actors’ approaches to the roles and their development, themes, and Boston’s presence in the film. At times, the program offers decent insight into the story’s concepts and how the actors worked. However, it rarely really delves into anything with much depth, as we hear a lot of comments about how wonderful an experience the shoot was.
I could also live without the self-congratulatory statements about how the film’s all “real” and made without visual effects; that popped up as an anti-Lord of the Rings theme during the Oscar campaign, and it still strikes me as smug and condescending. Lots of great films use visual effects; their presence or absence doesn’t make a movie better or worse. Even without those elements, though, “Surface” seems only fitfully informative, as it turns into an average program.
One oddity: the DVD package touts “Beneath” as “Dennis Lehane tours the Boston neighborhood setting of his novel”. Huh? We get a few comments about that influence, but there’s no “tour”, and acting-related subjects dominate.
Next we get another documentary entitled Mystic River: From Page to Screen. In this 11-minute and 30-second piece, we find the standard presentation and hear from Eastwood, Robbins, Penn, Bacon, Lehane, Helgeland, Harden, Linney, and Fishburne. They go over casting and working with the actors, development of the project, and working with Eastwood. Movie clips dominate this fluffy chat, and it also repeats a lot of information from the prior program. It reveals little new and seems like nothing more than a promotional featurette.
In addition to the movie’s teaser and theatrical trailers, DVD Two includes interviews from The Charlie Rose Show. We find discussions with Eastwood from October 8, 2003, Robbins (October 13, 2003), and Bacon (December 26, 2003). Taken all together, these pieces last a whopping 111 minutes, 17 seconds. Eastwood discusses subjects such as his interest in the book and its themes, reflections on Mystic’s place in his body of work, working with the cast and his style as a director, bringing the project to the screen, and influences and how being an actor affects his decisions. Robbins goes over character issues and his approach to the role, the atmosphere on the set, the movie’s place in his career and his past work, the impact of his politics on his career, and his general attitudes toward acting. Finally, Bacon chats about pursuing the role and prior parts, working on Mystic, his acting role models, and his music career.
The Bacon chat seems the least interesting. He mostly gets into issues we hear about elsewhere, and the level of depth seems shallow. Happily, the first two conversations appear much more compelling. Eastwood comes across as loose and revealing as he gets into his career and style, while the highlights of Robbins’ piece get into his political thoughts. Both seem quite interesting and involving, so the Rose programs offer the best extras on the DVD.
In addition, we get an unusual addition: the flick’s soundtrack CD. This comes on a separate platter and includes Eastwood’s score. I’m not sure why the set went this way instead of the isolated score route, but it’s a cool way to do it. Movie music fans should be excited to get this CD.
Many thought Mystic River deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar for 2003. I didn’t, but I nonetheless found a lot to admire about this well-executed movie. It depicts a complex character tale adeptly and benefits from restrained storytelling and excellent acting. The DVD presents very strong picture quality plus more than adequate audio and an erratic but generally satisfying set of supplements. Mystic River seems haunting and dramatic, and it earns my recommendation.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1521 Stars|| Number of Votes: 92|