Monday, November 03, 2003


Critics have been showering the project with their most pre-Oscarish adjectives like, "Important," "Thoughtful," and "Provocative." A legion of my friends - many of them Christians - have told me, "You MUST see Mystic River!"

Now, in the morning after wake of the film, I'm sitting here shaking my head wondering, has everybody lost their minds?!?!

I am told that the book, Mystic River was great. I haven't read it. The adaptation is a mess. It is a sad squandering of an incredbly talented cast, in a project that ultimately comes down to the thesis: bad things that happen can screw you up. One of my brilliant TV producing friends assures me that the film's flaws come down to dreadful directing by Clint Eastwood. I don't have a trained-enough eye to see those flaws. But I can talk about the script.

The three main characters are all badly conceived and awkwardly developed. I imagine the main character is Sean Penn, only because he is the protagonist of the action that it seems like the movie is ultimately about. The storyline of Kevin Bacon and his wife is incomprehensible and unmotivated. The use of two less than minor characters as the ultimate antagonists is cheap and unsatisfying. The legions of supporting characters - from the Savage brothers to Bacon's despicable cop partner, to Laura Linney as Dr. Sweet Housewife-Mrs. Evil Dominatrix - are all underdeveloped and uncompelling.

The main flaw of the film from a Christian standpoint is the failure to show (as Flannery the Great would say it) "Grace being offered." In the deadly climax of the film, it was fine to have Sean Penn knife and shoot his friend, played by Tim Robbins, in a mistaken frenzy of grief for his own murdered daughter. What was missing was any hesitation in the Penn character, when Robbins' character lapses into confusion due to residue from his abduction and molestation as a child. Robbins character suggests that Penn would be a different man if he had been the one abducted, and this should have been a doorway to some human compassion/hesitation in the scene. The moment could easily have been "grace being offered", which would ultimately redeem the theme of this film. One might also expect that Jimmy (Penn) would have hesitated because he had already murdered one man, and maybe the intervening years have taught him that that was a bad choice. But noooooooooooo. He actually states that he has recovered from the previous murder with no ill effects.

I want to be clear. The film is not bad because it ends with Jimmy killing Dave. It is bad because it doesn't show any deliberation on Jimmy's part. He's like an animal, not a man.

But I don't think the director really had any understanding of the theme of the project, and so the opportunity to actually make this film "Important" and "Thoughtful" was lost.

I also think it would have been a more daring story if the Dave character had not killed the pedophile. That clouds the waters of his own murder, making Jimmy seem less culpable somehow because, in the end, the guy he murdered was a murderer.

As Aristotle said in the Poetics, real tragedy is in bad things happening to good people.

As a New Englander, I also cannot stand movies with actors slaughtering our accent. It always becomes the focus of every scene, which it shouldn't.

So, my ultimate judgment on Mystic River is that it will add nothing to your spiritual journey on the plus side. On the minus side, it will make you more scared of your neighbor and more paranoid for your kids. But if that's what you want, be my guest.

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