Tuesday, June 24, 2014


(October 2003, U.S.)

Let me begin with a rather light piece of trivia - at the exact moment I was re-watching Clint Eastwood's MYSTIC RIVER to get a fresh perspective for my blog post, my father was sitting in a small neighborhood movie theater (some of them do still exist!) in Westhampton Beach, Long Island watching Eastwood's latest film JERSEY BOYS. That's of very little interest to my readers, I'm sure, and only of marginal interest to me, but it's one of life's little coincidences that I can't help but conjure up.

Now for something a little heavier - the last time I watched this film, I had not yet become a father. Today, as the father of an eight year-old boy, to sit and watch the entire opening sequence of a young boy being abducted by child molesters and held for days under their brutality is extremely unsettling, to say the least. I actually find that I have to force myself to not let my imagination run wild with horrible thoughts involving my own child and simply concentrate on a film that I consider one of Eastwood's best directorial efforts and also perhaps one of the best roles I've ever seen an actor like Sean Penn embrace.

As a basic detective story of a young, vibrant girl who's found dead one morning in a small Boston town, my memories drift back to the opening pilot of David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS when it premiered on ABC-TV in 1990. It's now been twenty-five years since the abduction of Dave (played as a grown up by Tim Robbins) and he and his two old childhood friends Jimmy (played by Sean Penn) and Sean (played by Kevin Bacon) are simple people making their own way in a town where everybody knows each other. Like TWIN PEAKS, the town is shattered when they learn that Jimmy's nineteen year-old daughter Katie has been murdered and each citizen feels the loss in their own way. Sean Penn plays the role of distraught father hell-bent on vengeance with a powerful and haunting intensity that I've rarely seen on screen. He's always been a great actor, but this is perhaps my favorite role of his, and leave it to Clint Eastwood as director to help bring it out of him. This moment on film alone says it all for me...

As a grown man, Dave has never forgotten the sexual abuse he endured and it's very clearly taken a toll on his mind and his senses, despite trying his best to play the role of good husband, good father and good citizen. The darkness within him is evident, though, when he comes home covered in someone else's blood the night Katie was killed. Much like any typical detective story, all evidence is pointing greatly toward him as suspect, despite the prospect of motive being very weak. Over the course of the film, Sean and his partner, Sergeant Whitey Powers (played by Lawrence Fishburne), track down leads while Jimmy conducts his own investigation using his neighborhood connections. Sean discovers that the gun used to kill Katie was also used in a liquor store robbery during the 1980s by the father of Katie's boyfriend. While Dave continues to behave erratically, his rather unstable wife reaches the point where she's afraid her husband will hurt her. While Jimmy and his tough guy associates conduct their investigation, Dave's wife eventually tells Jimmy about Dave's behavior, the bloody clothing, and her suspicions of him. By now, Jimmy's grief and desire for vengeance and restitution is leading him on a path to execute his old friend Dave.

Now despite MYSTIC RIVER being a great film, here's where things become a bit questionable for me. While Jimmy is in the process of preparing to kill Dave, we're learning two new things in the process. The first is that on the night of Katie's murder, the blood on Dave's clothes just happen to occur when he just happen to come across a male pedofile and a young boy in a car and proceeded to beat the man to death. A man who was sexually abused by pedofiles as a boy just happens to come across a pedofile on the same night the murder is committed?? Sorry, I'm having a little trouble with such an act of far-fetched coincidence! The second is that when we learn who the real murderers are, we're supposed to accept the motive as simply that of love and jealousy between a young, mute boy and his older brother who was also Katie's boyfriend. Interestingly, though, we learn the truth of the real killers as the same moment that Jimmy is killing Dave, the wrong man, is some moments of brilliant editing by Joel Cox. By the end of the film, it's hardly a cinematic situation of "happily every after", but life among men and women in a small Boston town does continue with it's daily rituals and routines of middle class life and family, despite the heavy sins of some and their consequences to others. In a strange way, it's all washed away and life goes on.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jimmy Markum: "Is my daughter in there!? Motherfuckers! Is that my daughter in there!? Is she in there!? Sean! Is that my daughter in there!? Is that my daughter in there!? No! No! No! No, aagggh, no! No! Oh, God! Oh, God! No!"

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