Mystic River

Mystic River is a curious kind of film, for me. It is gorgeously directed, well-acted and subtly shot. It’s well-written too, and well-deserving of all the accolades it has received. It does indeed seem to be a culmination of all the directorial forays by Clint Eastwood; Sean Penn (Jimmy) is at his best, and Tim Robbins (Dave) is great as a disturbed/creepy guy, and Kevin Bacon (Sean) gets to do his stoic sufferer thing. So I should have liked it alot right? Well, I didn’t. And there’s 2 reasons why I didn’t. As a warning, the first is somewhat of a spoiler, so you may want to skip this if you’ve not seen it yet.

My biggest issue with the film is Laura Linney’s monologue at the end of the film, puffing up Jimmy, who’s experiencing some guilt pangs. It came as a complete shock to me, seemingly out of character with her and the established family dynamic. Her cold, calculating mafia-wife stance didn’t even make a lot of sense to me: standing by her man, showing compassion as he struggles with what he did, forgiving him — even saying it’s ok is fine. But the bit about ‘ruling this town’ just went way overboard. And it went on from there. Perhaps he really is some kind of minor crime boss, but there was no cinematic effect to establish this through the back-story. All of a sudden, he graduated from minor former criminal to criminal mastermind. And everyone just kind of accepted it. The nod from Sean to Jimmy across the parade was totally cop-to-enemy style, but I didn’t buy it, and it left a really awkward feeling in me as the film ended. Coupled with the lack of compassion for Dave’s wife as the wanders frantically, Laura Linney eyeing her coldly, just struck a wrong chord with me.

So the end of the first point leads firmly into my second disapointment: It was an incredibly manipulative film. One of the things I’ve always liked about Clint Eastwood as a director is that he’s been an underhanded, casual director, mostly letting the acting speak for themselves. But throughout this film, I felt like I was being manipulated to follow his vision of the truth, not simply letting the story reveal them to me. The particular aspect was the over-head shot/cut-to-focus technique. Each one would cover at least 2 possible avenues of focus, then would drop to one — the director saying: I could show you this or this, but this is what you need to think about now. Some films, such as American Beauty take this approach and run with it, raising each manipulation to a level of Symbol, then repeated throughout the film to drive it home. This film fell somewhere in between, I felt, which left it seeming heavy-handed to me. Or, left far too concious of the directorial actions, so I couldn’t lose myself in the storyline, thus making it harder to engage the story, and more importantly, the characters.

So I guess a somewhat mixed-bag review, but I would say that this film is definitely worth seeing, but perhaps just as a renter.