Mystic River

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2003, 12:00am

Starring: Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Clint Eastwood

Category: IIB

It's a safe bet that Clint Eastwood's taut, gripping thriller will get a swag of nominations come Oscars time. Like Unforgiven (1992), the world he portrays is steeped in violence and regret, his characters haunted by decisions they made long ago. And like that film, Mystic River is blessed by the wealth of talent Eastwood had at his disposal.

Leading the way is Sean Penn, as a man so burdened with anger and grief he seems on the brink of exploding with every twitch of his frayed nerves. He plays one of three former childhood friends - with Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon - whose lives, to various degrees, have been scarred by an incident they are at pains to keep in the past. But they are forced to confront it, along with its consequences, when a murder drags them back together.

Eastwood explores the darker shades of the human condition in a world in which everything is clouded. There is no real good, no sense that right is ever served. And the director - like his characters - sometimes seems to plead for reason (or is it intervention?) as he points his cameras towards the sky.

Eastwood inches us towards the revelation of what went on - and Robbins shows us a man bewildered by his own fate. He blinks wide-eyed and questioning at a world he doesn't understand, and cowers at the very thought of his past and what it has done to him. It is a mesmerising performance.

Bacon and Laurence Fishburne, as police partners, play their parts superbly, too. - Fishburne, in particular. Dusting off The Matrix's Morpheus, he reminds us just how talented he is.

The film is from a novel by Dennis Lehane, and screenwriter Brian Helgeland has crafted a story not without faults. But it is such an enthralling tale that these concerns are rendered minor by the very weight of the plot. Eastwood doesn't paint a pretty picture, but it's one that lingers long.