Mystic River

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 June, 2004, 12:00am

Mystic River

Starring: Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden

Director: Clint Eastwood

The film: On reflection, there was never any doubt this production could be anything but a triumph? Great novel, fine script (Brian Helgeland, of L.A. Confidential fame), an occasionally great director, and a stupendous cast.

But high-end ingredients aren't always a guarantee of a palatable dish, so it's still satisfying just how good Mystic River is. The cast exceed even their own previous personal highs - Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, in particular - and Clint Eastwood weaves a hypnotic atmosphere that envelopes you for the whole two hours.

Penn, Robbins and Kevin Bacon play three childhood friends who share a dark secret. And, years later, it rears its ugly head again, revealing how none of them has ever really confronted the damage it wrought on their lives.

At the centre of the story is the death of Penn's daughter and the search for the killer. The scenes of a grieving Penn (and the anger against those who perpetrated the crime) show such depth of pain and anguish that it's almost too much to watch. But therein lies his brilliance, and why he justifiably won the Academy Award.

In contrast to Penn's fury, Robbins plays a shuffling, sorry soul, seemingly unable to look life - or anyone, for that matter - in the eye. And his Oscar for best actor in a supporting role was just as thoroughly deserved.

For his part, Eastwood presents a bleak landscape, almost bereft of hope, where damaged people do their best to get by with little concern for anyone else. Maybe it's the cowboy of his past peeking through, but things are never less than very grim. Or very real. Depending on where you're coming from.

The extras: Hold out for the three-disc set that's available, if you shop around. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widscreen edition brings added depth to the muted tones and sombre imagery, while the extras have some gems hidden among them. The commentary track on disc one will put you to sleep - it actually sounds like Robbins and Bacon slip into slumberland themselves at times. Disc two has the usual self-congratulatory featurettes, but does include a Charlie Rose Show that sheds more life on the actors and their craft. The third disc is Eastwood's own superbly crafted soundtrack.

The verdict: A grim, but astonishing piece of work. Not to be missed.