"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku

MYSTIC RIVER

I confess I’ve never cared much for Clint Eastwood’s directorial work, but then it got nominated for Best Picture, and I had no choice if I were going to write my annual Oscar column. So last Friday I trudged to the theatre to see it.

And Holy Shit, is this a good movie.

The film tells the story of three friends who go through a tragedy when young boys, and who are then reunited by another tragedy when they are men. This is ostensibly a who-dunnit thriller, but you’ll figure it out (or at least suspect) relatively quickly on that score. To his credit, Eastwood is much more interested in the damaged psyche of the characters, and how they have (and haven’t) moved on from the earlier tragedy.

This movie is all about the acting. You might have heard about Sean Penn (who won the Golden Globe), and is the Oscar front-runner. At first I thought he was over-acting a tad, but as the film progresses I understood his part more and he does a fine job.

So too do Kevin Bacon (arguably his best work), and Lawrence Fishburn, playing detectives trying to solve the crime. Laura Linney is fantastic as always; I only wish we could have seen more of her (after the third act, you’ll know what I mean). This woman consistently turns in awesome work. It’s amazing to me how versatile an actor she is.

But the film is owned—not rented, or leased with an option to buy but owned—by Tim Robbins and Marcia Gay Harden (both nominated in supporting roles, and Robbins has already won the Golden Globe.) I cannot say enough about the performances of these two people. You think you know what they are about, but like Laura Linney’s character (and hell, come to think about it, just about everyone else’s too), you are so wrong.

The film starts slowly, but in a good way, to introduce us to each character. It’s ingenious how Eastwood tells us who the adults were as kids without being obvious. The first act ends as we get the tragedy (and its immediate aftermath). Then the film goes into the next gear, and the secrets start dropping.

Anyway, the third act comes, and the movie seems to sag—just a little—and then comes the resolution and denouement that just took my breath away, and changed my perspective of the whole film.

About my only complain was the music, which I wish had been in more of a minor chord, but this is a small complaint. Mystic River was a joy to sit through, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I can’t say it’s better than Return of the King, but I will say that I wouldn’t take hostages if River did win Best Picture, and that’s about as high praise as I get.

Suspension of Disbelief Index: 0. This is as real as it gets.

Genre Grade: Psychological Thriller: A+. As good and as well acted as Silence of the Lambs. Not as overtly scary, but the emotional sucker punch….

Pantheon Percentile: 98. One of the best acted and most satisfying films I’ve ever seen.

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