Warner Bros. // 2003 // 137 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // February 8th, 2010
We bury our sins, we wash them clean.
Clint Eastwood's Mystic River earned deafening buzz after premiering at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. Later that year it opened to rave reviews and a slew of Oscar nominations -- and netted Sean Penn and Tim Robbins Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards, respectively. However, for some reason, the film doesn't seem to have aged well. In November 2006, Premiere magazine named it the eighth most overrated film of all time. At the end of the Aughts it was virtually shut out from critics' best-of-the-decade lists. But now, Mystic River (Blu-ray) seems primed for a reevaluation and, perhaps, resurrection?
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Mystic River centers around three men who grew up together in the same Boston neighborhood, but now lead wildly different lives. The tough ex-con Jimmy (Sean Penn, Milk) runs a profitable corner market, but still hangs with the local toughs. The straight-laced Sean (Kevin Bacon, Footloose) is a no-nonsense cop whose marriage is falling apart. Dave (Tim Robbins, Bull Durham) is a large, sad sack of a man who has been, as one neighbor described him, "damaged goods," ever since he was kidnapped and sexually abused as a boy.
The three men have long grown apart, but are thrown together again when Jimmy's teenage daughter is found brutally murdered in a local park. Sean is assigned the case, but has to both search for the killer and prevent Jimmy from seeking vengeance himself -- especially when Dave starts looking more and more like the prime suspect.
I've seen Mystic River three times now, and I still can't tell you whether it's a murder mystery or a drama -- and that's to the film's great credit.
Though I saw the film twice in the theaters, my wife had never seen it. When she recently watched it with me on Blu-ray, she quickly grew antsy, asking me who killed Jimmy's daughter, who cut Dave's stomach, and -- about a dozen times -- whether what just happened was a clue. About 40 minutes into the movie, probably around the scene when Jimmy explains to Sean how he's unable to cry for her daughter, the questioning stopped. She sat forward on the couch and silently watched the drama unfold.
Like any great drama -- but few whodunits -- Mystic River is populated by compelling characters and presents profound questions about human nature. While the script is excellent (as is the novel it was adapted from), the performances from an all-star team of actors make nearly every scene of this emotional film devastating. Penn and Robbins, in particular, take characters who could easily have been presented broadly -- the enraged father and a babbling basket case -- and provide nuance and humanity that makes them both sympathetic and dangerous. No easy feat.
That said, I think a far amount of the film's diminished reputation is due to the relatively flat third wheel of Sean. Compared to Jimmy and Dave, Sean is practically nondescript. Furthermore, attempts to enliven the character by adding a wisecracking black partner and a non-sequitur subplot are too bland and conventional for a film that is otherwise so compelling.
Still, Mystic River seems in danger of becoming overlooked by future generations, which would be a shame. There are few movies that manage to be suspenseful and moving simultaneously. While it probably doesn't have a place on my Best of the Aughts list, it's definitely honorable mention.
The Blu-ray edition of Mystic River contains all of the extras available -- except for the soundtrack CD -- on the previously released three-disc DVD set. That said, the picture and sound quality is so strong that this might be worth an upgrade for fans.
The picture is particularly impressive. Apparently, Warner Bros. had wanted Eastwood to shoot the film in Toronto to save money, but he insisted on Boston. Watching the movie with a 1080p transfer, you can really appreciate that decision. Boston is one of the oldest American cities and has a character that is almost impossible to replicate. With this transfer, you can see the chipping paint, cracks in the sidewalk, and fluttering leaves in exquisite detail. It adds an ambiance to the film that elevates the viewing experience.
The DTS-HD 5.1 MA soundtrack is less overtly impressive, but very effective. From the opening street hockey game to the concluding parade scene, the surround component is put to good use. Additionally, the score (composed by Eastwood) provides a successfully subtle accompaniment to the action.
The disc doesn't have loads of extras, but they are almost all fairly substantial. The commentary track with Bacon and Robbins is mildly interesting, but I think Eastwood and Penn would have had more insight into the film and creative process. This is borne out on the disc's best extra, almost two hours of interviews with Charlie Rose. While Bacon and Robbins make appearances here as well, Eastwood's 40 minutes are probably the (non-movie) highlight of the Blu-ray. Lastly, there are two superior making-of featurettes and two theatrical trailers.
If you are a fan of the film, and don't yet own the three-disc DVD set, this is definitely worth an upgrade. If you already own the three-disc set, it's a tough decision, but one worth considering.
Review content copyright © 2010 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site