A few decades ago when Clint Eastwood was busy making spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry movies, who would have conceived that he would one day be such an incredible director. “Unforgiven,” the film that won Eastwood the Oscar for Best Director and also won Best Picture for 1992, gained the actor much respect.

“Mystic River,” on the other hand, outshines even the Oscar winner as Eastwood’s best work to date as a director.


“Mystic River” begins with three young boys playing on the streets of their Boston neighborhood. Then something horrific happens that will change their lives forever. 


As the film moves into the present day, the audience sees the men these boys have become. One is now a cop, another runs a corner store, and the third is a handyman. They are no longer friends, but rather acquaintances as is often the case between childhood buddies. These men, unlike most childhood pals, also carry with them a memory that prevents them from continuing to be close. 


As children, one of them was a victim, and the other two are plagued with the questions of “What if it had been me?” Childhood friendships are hard to maintain even in the best of circumstances, and these are far from the best of circumstances. 


As the present day plot unfolds, there is a murder in the neighborhood where the men grew up, and where two of them still reside. One of the men is closely connected to the murder victim, the second may or may not be connected to the murder, and the third is called in to investigate. 


Giving away more details of this story would be a mistake no reviewer should make. This film plays like a great novel, each scene adding a new dimension and a new layer to the story. One should discover those layers without the experience being tainted by someone who knows what is coming next. The only thing that really matters is that this is a great story, filled with real characters, an authentic setting, and more emotional punch than almost any other film this year.


Though “Mystic River” boasts one of the best scripts of the year (based on the novel by Dennis LeHane), the film would not have been as powerful without the perfect performances by the three male leads. 


Sean Penn does the best work he has done since “Dead Man Walking.” His anguish and grief alone should earn him an Oscar nomination. Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins are Penn’s equals in every scene. All three deliver career-capping work here. Along with these three, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden stand out in supporting roles—playing wives grieving what is and what might be, respectively. 


Billy Graham once remarked in an interview that he believed the four greatest problems plaguing modern American society were loneliness, emptiness, fear of death and guilt. The characters in this film experience all of these emotions. The choices they make and the actions they take are driven by these emotions. Sadly, when they get the very things they think will ease the pain, their lives are no better. Pain is deep and does not heal quickly. Herein lies a lesson for those who advocate revenge, violence and even war to solve the world’s problems. 


“Mystic River” is the best film of this fall season. It is also one of the best films of 2003, as well as the best film Clint Eastwood has ever directed. Though the film has received rave reviews, it has not found a wide audience yet. Consider passing on all the films competing for the holiday dollar, and spending some time watching the spellbinding flow of “Mystic River.”


Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ablemarle, N.C.

MPAA Rating: R for language and violence

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Brian Helgeland (from the novel by Dennis LeHane)

Cast: Jimmy Markum: Sean Penn; Dave Boyle: Tim Robbins; Sean Devine: Kevin Bacon; Whitey Powers: Laurence Fishburne; Celeste Boyle: Marcia Gay Harden; Annabeth Markum: Laura Linney.

Visit the movie’s official Web site.

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