When asked what an actor should do to develop his craft, on “In the Actor’s Studio” guest Actor/ Director Clint Eastwood said that one should master “the art of listening.” Watching Eastwood’s “Mystic River” we get a sense that we are eavesdropping on a private conversation. “Mystic River” is the work of the director who has a mastery of his craft. Eastwood is also directing actors who are at the top of their game: Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne, and Marcia Gay Harden. This is an extraordinary accomplishment given the nature of the story– it is difficult to sit through. Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) wrote the compelling screenplay from the novel by Dennis Lehane. “Mystic River” tells the story of three childhood friends, Jimmy Markham (Penn), Dave Boyle (Robbins), and Sean Devine (Bacon) growing up in Boston. As the story begins Dave is abducted by two men posing as police officers and is molested. Jumping to the present day, Jimmy’s daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is found murdered, and the homicide detective investigating the case is Sean (Bacon). At the same time, the very scarred and repressed Dave (Robbins) has a suspicious incident with a mugger that he confesses to his wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden). Hence, boyhood friends are reunited as grown men who are somewhat broken. Jimmy, a drugstore owner, has apparent mob ties. Dave, who is now married with a son, is a shell of a man. Sean has been estranged from his wife and son– he does not know where they are. So Sean along with his partner Whitey Powers (Fishburne) must find Katie Markham’s murderer in a case that seems inherently linked to the past.
This is by definition a difficult story to tell, and Eastwood keeps us enthralled and moves us. The intensity of the movie comes from its simplicity and eloquence. Its power derives from Eastwood’s use of silence and his confidence in his actors’ mastery of listening. Sean Penn as Jimmy is absolutely powerful. There is a scene in the movie where he cries about his daughter with Robbins’s Dave that is electrifying. Jimmy is clearly the marquee role. Penn should deservedly receive an Oscar nomination, and even perhaps win. Though Kevin Bacon’s performance as Sean, the less showy of the lead characters, is simply stunning. It is great to be reminded of what a powerful actor Kevin Bacon is. You never catch him acting– he is just being. As Sean he is doing his best, solving a murder case while completing his past and his present. Bacon possesses a quiet power, and restrained vulnerability. In a scene near the end, Sean just listens and does not say a word, and it is haunting. We are watching an actor who is truly generating and creating art. Tim Robbins as Dave gives a heartfelt performance as a broken man clumsily regaining his nobility.
“Mystic River” is a rough journey, and it ends surprisingly quietly. I guess much like Wordsworth said in “The Prelude” that we can never return to innocence, it’s just life. And it goes on. “Mystic River” is one of the year’s best. Clint Eastwood and writer Brian Helgeland along with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins show that when you have a master director, a solid story, and the best actors around you have art. And props to Clint for demonstrating that simplicity is an element of mastery.
Watch the movie trailer:
This post was previously published on IMDb.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from official trailer.