Mystic River (2003)

Clint Eastwood directs Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon in this American crime drama about three childhood friends reunited by the murder of one of their daughters and the dark history that tragedy dredges up.

I’m a big fan of Dennis Lehane’s writing – the authentic tours he gives of Boston’s neighbourhoods and organised crimes mundane workings, the unforced deconstruction of machismo, revenge and history repeating itself he achieves in nearly all his page turners. When adapted for the big screen, they feel like prestige projects rather than neo- noirs. Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone and The Drop attract A-List casts and sophisticated directors. All cinematic translations focus on his rich ensemble of characters and deep, brooding emotion, the mystery elements often take the back seat as we watch criminals and victims, detectives and conspirators play out their lives. Mystic River is the finest film based on his writing. Clint directs it like an essay on America. He has a pitch perfect cast. Both Sean Penn and Tim Robbins turn in their very best work – large, broad, unrestrained performances that modulate between bellowing grief and seething threat. And the visuals are sublime, not least of which the iconic scene where Penn has to be swamped by uniform cops to restrain his rage. Then we have that ambiguous ending. Where America resets itself after all the doubt, violence and retribution… where the nuanced characters we met at the start have somehow reduced themselves back into stock roles. Gangster, cop, red herring. You can’t allow people to escape their past, not if you want the present to keep on marching.


My Top 10 Sean Penn Movies

1. Mystic River (2003)

2. The Thin Red Line (1998)

3. Casualties of War (1989)

4. The Game (1997)

5. At Close Range (1986)

6. Dogtown and the Z-Boys (2001)

7. U-Turn (1997)

8. Carlito’s Way (1993)

9. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

10. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

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