Mystic River ★★★

Summer of Scam 2: Criminally Insane

There's a lot to be said here, a difficult to decipher mix of the impressive and the odious.

Clint Eastwood has a firm grasp of the mystery here but a very, very basic grasp of the characters. He doesn't have the same affection for Boston that Dennis Lehane has or that Ben Affleck has - and it *matters*. I haven't read any of Lehane's books but the opinion of those I trust say that Affleck's understanding of the city and its familial structure absolutely matched Lehane's.

Gone Baby Gone's narrative was woven in and out through the depth of Boston's criminal class and working class families. Boston wasn't a backdrop, it mattered to everything. Affleck helped those of us who don't know the place understand how it works. Eastwood either didn't care to do that or didn't feel it necessary but he was wrong on both counts.

Credit to him for not supplanting his own experiences of the genre, both as actor and director, into Mystic River. That would have destroyed what fabric was left. He also deserves to be applauded for the last 20 minutes of this, where he finally gets to work things through as a basic thriller and shows considerable flair in doing so and a lot more interest in the depth of these characters in the bargain.

I wouldn't say it comes too late to rescue Mystic River because it's not a bad film overall. Laura Linney's sudden character evolution at the end was the biggest misstep here of all though. I know this film is 16 years old but I've noticed quite a regular use of this concept of a wife who is used as little more than a set dressing support character suddenly being injected with some 'character' by having her miraculously develop an unpleasant characteristic of some description.

Eastwood shows, as do the plentiful other directors who have done this over the last 20 years or so in films such as this, an inability for finding room for female support characters to have any importance in their story so they give them this quick fix that they think gives them reason to be on screen at all. It's a tiresome and nauseating recurrence though, and especially nonsensical here.

At least Linney and Marcia Gay Harden are such good actors that they give his ideas some credibility but they obviously deserve better. I also found myself struggling with Tim Robbins, who unfortunately seems to be having one of his many off days here, and his 'I was abused as a kid so now I'm a vigilante loner' role. The same lack of imagination I mentioned above is at play here too.

What makes this all frustrating rather than for a generally disappointing film is that Eastwood's work with Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn is excellent. A real rarity to see a film where childhood friends went their separate ways and don't really have much reason to reconnect in their adulthood, become three different people. The portrayal of people who have actually changed rather than it just being a physical growth hiding the same childhood personalities was refreshing.

Maybe if Eastwood had been able to concentrate on that side of things more, Mystic River could have been a much different and better film. As it is, it's a mildly distracting crime film with some good performances. But considering what was potentially on offer here, that feels like *such* a disappointment.