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Review: 'Mystic River' deep and moving

Eastwood-directed film features great performances

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Mystic River
Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn in "Mystic River."

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(CNN) -- Clint Eastwood's latest film, "Mystic River," a stark and brooding drama, explores the dark side of human nature and the frailty of the safe world we would all like to think we live in, but don't.

The story begins in flashback with the three characters -- friends Sean Devine, Jimmy Markum and Dave Boyle -- growing up in a tough section of Boston.

The boys are playing together on the street on day when their innocence comes to an abrupt end. Dave is kidnapped and sexually abused by two men pretending to be police officers.

Twenty-five years later, when Jimmy's (Sean Penn) 19-year-old daughter is found murdered, the three are suddenly reunited by the tragedy. The investigation creeps closer and closer to its surprise conclusion past demons that threaten to destroy all involved.

Now a Boston police officer, Sean (Kevin Bacon) is assigned to the case, along with a partner played by Laurence Fishburne. Sean is now faced with the task of keeping Jimmy under control as the enraged father attempts to solve the case on his own. Laura Linney plays Jimmy's wife Annabeth with a great sense of inner strength and reserve.


Dave (Tim Robbins), who never really recovered from his savage ordeal, is still haunted by the graphic images that continue to replay in his mind. However, he has managed to carve out a life for himself and is now married to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and has a son of his own.

Mystic River
Laura Linney plays Penn's wife in "Mystic River."

But when circumstantial evidences starts drifting towards Dave, his fragile grip on reality begins to slip as he sees his marriage and future begin to unravel.

Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Eastwood -- along with screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential") -- has crafted a riveting story with complex situations and extremely well defined characters.

Eastwood's spare approach to filmmaking, in which less is always more, gives this film a grim reality and a deep sense of intimacy. In many ways the film almost seems like a documentary, and Boston itself -- along with the actual Mystic River -- are as much characters as the human principals.

It also helps that Eastwood has three of the industry's finest actors at his service. Each man is damaged in his own way. and their interwoven histories provide a magnificent subtext to this deeply moving story. Harden and Linney also deliver top-notch performances.

"Mystic River" seems destined to be a contender -- in many categories -- for next year's Academy Awards. It's Eastwood's best directorial work since "Unforgiven."

"Mystic River" opens in limited release on Wednesday, October 8, and is rated R. "Mystic River" is a Warner Bros. film. Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN.

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