review for Mystic River on AllMovie

Mystic River (2003)
by Josh Ralske review

"The past is not dead; it is not even past," said William Faulkner, and that sentiment certainly applies to director Clint Eastwood's acclaimed intimate epic Mystic River. The film is a mournful and effective murder mystery, but beyond that, it is a wrenching character study and a trenchant exploration of the dark themes that have been prevalent in Eastwood's work throughout the later part of his directing career. Violence is rampant in Mystic River, and even when its consequences rip the souls from these characters, they do not learn from it. The film is a showcase for Sean Penn, playing Jimmy, an emotionally volatile ex-con who casts aside his efforts to live within the law when his beloved daughter is brutally murdered, and Tim Robbins' heartbreaking performance as Dave, a man broken by an insurmountable childhood trauma. These actors receive excellent support from Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne as the homicide detectives stoically investigating the crime and Thomas Guiry as the daughter's secretive boyfriend. Laura Linney and especially Marcia Gay Harden, as Jimmy and Dave's wives, respectfully, do excellent work, but the script falls short in fleshing out their characters' motivations. Gracefully shot (by Tom Stern) and edited (by longtime Eastwood collaborator Joel Cox), the film suffers from a somewhat contrived and familiar story line, but still manages to build up considerable emotional weight. While Mystic River is too uneven to rank with Eastwood's best work, its strong performances and uncompromising bleakness make for a powerfully moving cinematic experience.