Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 10, 2003 Herald Journal
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Mystic River ­ a great movie missed


Here I am in Austin, Texas, staring at a deadline to get my bi-weekly film review in.

Austin is a town known for the unusual, the adventurous, the bold, the unusual; but I had to resist the temptation to see some more obscure film, perhaps the latest foreign gem.

Instead, I needed to pick a movie that was likely to be playing at Delano, Hutchinson, or Buffalo; so I chose "Mystic River." (I would have reviewed the new Matrix installment, but it starts tomorrow ­ right on top of that deadline.)

And, I reasoned, all the press coming out about "Mystic River" can't seem to finish a paragraph without saying "Oscar Contender," "Best film of 2003," etc. ­ so it's bound to still be running at our local cinemas, right?

Well, as I write this, I have the web browser looking up show times for Wright County, and it looks like you may still be able to catch it in . . . Plymouth. But, if you haven't seen this finely crafted film yet, it's worth the drive.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, the story would be a fairly typical modern murder mystery, with a satisfying final twist, except that director Clint Eastwood tells it so beautifully.

Jimmy, Dave, and Sean, each now in their 40s, were boys playing together in the Boston streets when Dave was abducted and abused. Even though they each still live in the neighborhood, they have become estranged.

Jimmy is an ex-con with a family, Sean is a homicide detective, and Dave also has a family, though he is clearly still trying to get his head on straight.

When Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter is murdered, the three are inevitably thrown back together in a crisis that will force them to resolve the injuries of their childhoods.

Helping Eastwood to weave this intricate saga is as fine an ensemble as one could hope to assemble, led by the impressive trio of Sean Penn ("I Am Sam," "Dead Man Walking"), Kevin Bacon ( "Apollo 13," "Stir of Echoes"), and Tim Robbins ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Hudsucker Proxy").

I could ramble on about the talents of each, but suffice to say that I'm glad I'm not on the Academy panel that has to decide if one of them doesn't get nominated for best actor. This is one of those films in which it's hard to imagine anyone else playing these roles.

And it doesn't stop with the leads. Of course, seeing Laurence Fishburne outside of "The Matrix" is a treat, and he fills his role as Bacon's "bad cop" partner nicely. But, the shining light of the supporting roles, and likely to be nominated for an Oscar, is Marcia Gay Harden ("Spitfire Grill," "Pollock") as Dave's tormented wife.

Turning the best selling novel into an almost flawless screenplay is Brian Hegeland, who has given us such similarly haunting scripts in the genre as "Payback," "Conspiracy Theory," and "L.A. Confidential."

But all of this talent would come to naught if not placed in the capable hands of Clint Eastwood. Most of us don't think of Eastwood as a director, but rather remember him for his early roles in spaghetti westerns or as Dirty Harry.

Or we think of the photographer in "Bridges of Madison County," the not-quite over-the-hill astronaut in "Space Cowboys," the secret agent hit man in "The Eiger Sanction," or the stalked radio DJ in "Play Misty for Me."

But, do we remember that he also directed all these films, and many more?

Eastwood has crafted a well-tuned story that is in no hurry to reveal itself, and yet it kept me riveted the entire time. Again, my money is on Eastwood for another Oscar nomination (he won best director and best actor in 1992 for "Unforgiven").

This is one of the movies that is hard to watch because of the violence and very convincing turmoil suffered by the characters. And yet, it's hard, once you've started, not to watch it.

And perhaps we'll have another chance: Buffalo and Delano brought in "About Schmidt" once it was nominated, and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" played for quite a while after it got so much unexpected attention.

Watch the ads ­ maybe, after the nominations are announced, "Mystic River" will return to a theater near you.

Rated "R" for language and violence.

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