Mystic River (8/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Three young boys are playing in the street when a car pulls up and a man who looks like a policeman forces one into his car and they drive off.  The boyís abused but escapes. We rejoin the action thirty years later when a girl is killed and all three boys Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), and investigating policeman Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) become involved again as Boyle is a suspect and Markum a victim.  Who killed the girl? Why? How did the first scenes affect the rest of their lives?  This is a terrific psychological thriller.

 I have two main criticisms of this film.  The first is a gratuitous but blatant anti-Catholic scene in which a child molester puts his hand on the seat and heís wearing a Christian ring.  It seemed pretty obvious to me, considering all the publicity about Catholic priest-child molesters, that we were being asked to identify him as a priest by the ring. There was no other reason for the man to put his hand on the seat so we could see his ring.  There was no other reason for him to be wearing such a ring. This has nothing to do with the film or the story, because the character never reappears and the identity of this character is never again raised except to tell what happened to him. The Church is never involved.  This far-from-subtle attempt to get the audience to identify him as a priest is just an uncalled-for, intolerant slap at the Church, something that is meant to equate all priests with ephebophiles.  In fact, the percentage of ephebophiliac priests is pretty much the same in the priesthood as it is in society at large.  Itís no less defensible (and, in fact, itís more offensive for a priest to be such a sexual predator, given a priestís special relationship as a moral anchor), but such a cowardly slap at the Church is unfair to the thousands of good priests and millions of believing Catholics.  Director Clint Eastwood should be ashamed of himself for showing such wanton bigotry or insensitivity.

 The second is the inability of Penn and Robbins to shed tears on cue.  These guys are constantly lionized as being the best in their profession, yet they canít cry on cue.  There is very little that looks phonier on the screen than actors crying without tears.  If they canít shed tears, donít have them cry.  Both have major crying scenes, which they perform dry-eyed.  Showing them up are Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Celeste Boyle, and Tom Guiry, who plays Brendan Harris, both of whom shed real tears in scenes that are believable and moving.  Penn and Robbins look ridiculous faking their crying without tears.  If they arenít good enough actors to shed tears on cue, cut the crying. 

  This is an involving movie that held my interest for all but the last five of its 137-minute running time, despite an ending that seems to tolerate murder and vigilante justice.  Eastwood should have ended it with two characters standing in the street watching a car drive away.  The last five minutes following this scene were excruciating and detracted from what was an otherwise engaging movie.  Harden should be nominated for another Oscar. I wouldn't even consider Eastwood. The anti-Catholicism displayed at the beginning of the film should not be rewarded.

 October 19, 2003

The End