in Oscars Fortnight

Mystic River (2003)

The 76th Academy Awards (2004)
Wins: 2

It’s funny seeing what films at what times resonate with the Academy. Apart from the prestige of Mystic River being a Clint Eastwood film, I’m not sure what else it brings to the table. It has big performances that border on laughable. The story makes no sense. The mystery is shaky at best. Yet, it is n engaging thriller at times. Like an airport novel. Which makes sense considering it was adapted from what was essentially an airport novel. Some people just like a good time. Also, didn’t it seem like there was unusual interest in Boston in the mid-2000s? The Departed, anyone? Is it just me? Well, let’s get into it ya wicked pissas.

Based on Dennis Lehane’s 2001 novel, Mystic River (named after an actual river in Boston) is the story of three men; Jimmy (Sean Penn) an ex-con, Dave (Tim Robbins) a guy who was abducted and molested as a child, and Sean (Kevin Bacon) a Boston detective. The three were close as children until Dave’s abduction, which led them down very different paths. Tragically, the three are brought back together when Jimmy’s daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is murdered. Sean is the lead investigator, Dave—who comes home one night wounded and bloodied—becomes a suspect, and Jimmy seeks revenge with his old cronies.

The presentation of the film is simple and slick with FINE performances. Certainly not Oscar-caliber. Which I remind you, both Penn and Robbins won Oscars for… some reason. I think for Penn it’s because of the scene where he learns his daughter has been killed. Policemen hold him back as he continually shouts “Is that my daughter?!?” But it feels too big. Like Penn is screaming “GIVE ME AN OSCAR!” The scene is so melodramatic, it even has a camera panning out from above. Like in any bad movie when a character shouts “NOOOO!!!” But that’s what the Oscars like. They like the MOST acting, not the best acting.

Tim Robbins is more defensible as a mentally ill man trying to cope with a hard past and a hard future. The accent sounds like it was ripped from an SNL sketch but the sincerity is there. Ironically, the best performance in the film is the one that wasn’t nominated. Kevin Bacon, playing the sympathetic yet determined detective trying to solve the murder. I’ve always loved that Bacon will take any role no matter how big or small and deliver. He’s one of the greats. Oh, I almost forgot. Laurence Fishburne is his partner. He’s good too.

The setup of Mystic River is enticing. The story beats unfold at a solid pace. The movie is never slow. Though where it falls apart is the actual murder investigation. The cops in this movie are terrible at their job. I debated breaking down the whole plot but it would take more willpower than I’m willing to muster. Let’s just say it relies far too much on coincidence and characters making bad decisions by not asking even the most obvious questions.

I’m puzzled how such an average movie became an Oscar contender. Then again, what am I talking about? Green Book won the top prize a few years ago! This kind of questionable decision-making is still happening. If I had to wager a guess I’d say it’s because it felt like Clint Eastwood’s return to directing a real drama. Before this Clint had gotten into a rut of thrillers that he was far too old to be acting in. He also made Space Cowboys. Not sure how to classify that one. But Mystic River wasn’t a shoot ‘em up. It didn’t have Clint in the lead role either. It was for adults. So I think it was built up to be better than it was. Looking back it’s a fine movie but nothing special. Much like my contributions to this blog. Well, “fine” might be building it up too much.