Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

Deep and cold, like a riv­er, but not half as calm. “Mys­tic Riv­er” is the intrigu­ing dra­ma we’ve been wait­ing for this year. It comes to us, final­ly, in the shape of a Clint East­wood mas­ter­piece. Part char­ac­ter study, part mur­der mys­tery, it is the kind of movie we wish could con­tin­ue past its end credits.

Sean Penn stars as Jim­my, an ex-con and father of three, who spends his days oper­at­ing a cor­ner store. There’s Dave (Tim Rob­bins), also a devot­ed father and handy­man, and Sean (Kevin Bacon), a homi­cide detec­tive. The sto­ry is cen­tred on these three characters.

All three are linked by their child­hood mem­o­ries. They were once good friends from the neigh­bor­hood, insep­a­ra­ble, until one event came and washed away their friendship.

Mys­tic Riv­er” works won­der­ful­ly, the per­for­mances entan­gled with the deeply emo­tion­al sto­ry. And death, as a prin­ci­ple theme here, has nev­er been so per­son­al, not even in “Moon­light Mile”, which I said was “a film that is not afraid to dis­cuss death realistically.”

I’d love to get into details of the film’s plot, but those respon­si­ble for the ad cam­paigns did a splen­did job of not reveal­ing any­thing remote­ly impor­tant about the movie. When I entered the the­ater, I did­n’t quite know what to expect on screen. The end result is a pro­found sto­ry, super-charged with strong per­for­mances. Believe me, not know­ing much about it is part of the rea­son it had such a big impact on me.

This is Clint East­wood’s 24th film as direc­tor and, yes, my favorite one. It is spe­cial in the way it is pre­sent­ed, old-school style with steady shots and clear cuts, avoid­ing spe­cial effects and edit­ing tricks. There are no use­less char­ac­ters, no clichés, and it makes us want to cry. I had tears in my eyes and I don’t usu­al­ly get all teary unless it’s as effec­tive as Paci­no scream­ing over the death of his daugh­ter in “God­fa­ther III.” But this movie pulled it off. It reach­es the heart and then squeezes it tight­ly, upsets it, but slow­ly releas­es pres­sure as it nears its fin­ish. Nev­er easy to do.

It’s a tremen­dous film with great dia­logue, a sol­id cast, and a leg­endary Oscar-win­ning direc­tor. The peo­ple involved with “Mys­tic Riv­er” knew what they had to do and what they were going to achieve. More than this, I can­not say. They got the mys­ti­cal part right in the title.


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