#248 Mystic River (2003)


138 Minutes

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers:  Brian Helgeland (screenplay), Dennis Lehane(novel)

Cast: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney

Storyline: “With a childhood tragedy that overshadowed their lives, three men are reunited by circumstance when one loses a daughter.” IMDB


American Girl:

I had seen Mystic River quite a few years ago, I believe I even saw it in the cinema right when it was first released.  I don’t remember that much about it, I just that it was emotional and a bit “dark” so to speak.  I only saw it the one time, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but mostly because it was sad, and I didn’t feel l needed to put myself through that again. 🙂  Granted, I can’t remember how it ends, or even what happens (besides the basic plot), so I am looking forward to watching it again.  Considering Brit Boy has a bit of a softer soul, and is a hugely protective father, I am giving him ample warning that this movie could be a depressing jaunt.

Brit Boy:

Mystic River is a film I haven’t seen before and have no preconceived ideas about this. I cannot even remember this being a major film release at the time, however it was in the cinemas the year that my son was born so maybe I have an excuse for being distracted. As American Girl has said above I have been given enough coaching about this film being a potential emotional roller-coaster. I must admit that I am not one for putting myself through the ringer when watching films, I definitely choose to be entertained rather than depressed, but that is one of the factors which really appeals to me about this list, I cannot pick the easy option. With this in mind I settle down on the couch to see what unfurls….

Set The Scene

Brit Boy and I were having a marathon Skype “date” on a cold fall Saturday.  We discussed our blogs, talked about music, played some World of Warcraft, and we decided to take a “break” and watch the movie together (but across the continental U.S.).   So I snuggled up with my blanket, a glass of red wine, and with a simple text that said “ready?”, we both pushed play and started the movie.

Final Cut / Review

The film opens with 3 kids playing street hockey during the late 70’s, I immediately start to try and figure out where the film is set, I guess this is the expatriate in me trying to learn more about American culture etc. My clues are the baseball references and then I see the “B” on one of the kids baseball cap, so we’re in Boston one of my favorite cities, I wonder whether I will recognize anywhere.

The film instantly grips me and has a very fly on the wall documentary feel to it, not in the staged reality TV sense that we are getting blasted by daily now. More of a sense that you are an invisible observer on what is going on. I think this has been a masterful piece of directing by Clint Eastwood and it is no wonder that he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for this film. He so easily draws you into what is happening in the characters’ lives, without anything major happening in each scene. The sweeping views of Boston as he closes in on particular scenes is also very beautiful. Each scene flows seamlessly into the next with that underlying tension of not knowing what is going to happen next, I was definitely captivated and the time flew by for a film which is a relatively long 138 minutes.

The first scene of this movie is eerie, haunting even.  While I remember very little of this movie, I remember this first scene vividly.  Three boys are playing in their neighborhood, much as boys do, and decide to write their names in wet cement.  A car quietly pulls up, and a man steps out claiming he is a police officer, and reprimands the boys for “defacing” public property.  The scene is utterly silent, there is no music playing, all you hear is the running of the car, and the sounds of a dog barking in the distance.  As a viewer, you feel like you are right there (as described so well by Brit Boy), but helpless to do anything to stop it.  Time seems to go in slow motion, and the mother in me begs that the boys will just run away (knowing that they won’t).  The “police officer” insists that one of the boys (Dave Boyle) must come with him, so that he can take him home and tell his mother of Davey’s wrong doing.  The friends watch as Dave climbs into the backseat, at which point another man in the front seat, turns around to face Dave, and smiles.  Dave is driven away looking out the back window while his friends stand and watch him.   In my opinion, this scene sets the backbone for the entire movie, and is necessary to fully grasp the relationship between these three friends.


The film plays nicely on how this once inseparable group of friends are torn apart by tragedy, and never really regain that childhood relationship, which is so indicative of many childhood friendships. The awkwardness of the interactions between these men many years later is masterfully portrayed by Robbins, Bacon, and Penn.

Robbins does a spectacular job at portraying Dave Boyle, the disturbed kidnap victim who survives.  While the script was good, Robbins’ acting was superb.  You completely believe that he had lived through a horrific tragedy.  He wandered through the movie with a detached look in his eyes, almost just going through the motions of life, doing the things which he was expected to do in order to look “normal”.  I fully believe that the script alone would not have captured this character, Robbins became Dave Boyle.  It makes me wonder how much of that “darkness” may have seeped into Robbins during the time which he filmed this movie.  After conducting some research on the movie it is no surprise to me that Robbins won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Bacon plays the character of Sean Devine, the detective called to investigate the disappearance of Jimmy Markum’s daughter. Bacon’s appearance on screen and especially as this character caused me a certain amount of internal conflict, his acting was wonderful but I’ve recently been addicted to “The Following” TV series and couldn’t get his portrayal of Ryan Hardy out of my mind. Maybe it was the fact that both are detectives, maybe he drew from this character for Hardy I’m not sure, nevertheless his performance was excellent as always.

The third friend, Jimmy Markum, is played by Penn. He comes across as a thug, even a small time gangster with his associates, known as the “Savage Brothers”, constantly in tow.  When Markum’s 19 year old daughter is found murdered, the lives of these three friends quickly intersects once again brought together in tragedy.   Penn’s portrayal of a grieving father is outstanding.  The scene where he finds out his daughter has been murdered contains complete guttural grief as he screams and cries with almost animal instincts.  Similar to Robbins, Penn became Jimmy Markum.  There should be no surprise that Penn also won an Academy Award for Best Actor.


All three friends never seem to overcome the tragedy which occurred when they were young, haunted by it even as grown men years later. Their lives still continually intersected with tragedy as adults, almost as though some sort of curse was upon them all. The acting, the directing, the script, all portrayed the darkness and depression of these men. The lighting was always dim, there was a constant shadow upon these men. They never seemed happy. The script was subtle and not forced, but was so piercing none the less. Sean Devine sums it all up in two short lines:

“Sometimes I think, I think all three of us got in that car… The reality is we’re still 11 year old boys locked in a cellar imagining what our lives would have been if we’d escaped.”

With a slew of Academy Award nominations and wins it is no surprise this movie made the IMDB top 250 list. While the movie is dark, it is easy to appreciate it for what it is. It dives deep into the psyche of the human mind, and while disturbing, it does make you think and question what you would do if placed in a similar situation. It would be a great movie to watch with someone, or with a group, because it would be a good platform to start some deeper discussions.

I agree with American Girl there is no doubt that this film should make the list and is certainly superior to the previous two movies we have viewed. Although this was not an enjoyable movie in the entertaining sense, it does make you consider how seeds of doubt can start and proliferate like a cancer. I also felt the need to have the “strangers” discussion with my kids once again and make sure they are aware of the evil people out there.

Footnote  – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough

Clint Eastwood and Sir Richard Attenborough are both one of six actors to win an Academy Award for “Best Director”, the others being Warren Beatty, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and Robert Redford.

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