Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, Mystic River follows three childhood friends (Sean Penn’s Jimmy, Kevin Bacon’s Sean, and Tim Robbins’ Dave) as they’re forced to confront their shared memories of a tragic past in the wake of a sudden death. Director Clint Eastwood has infused the picture with a typically deliberate and methodical feel that certainly complements Brian Helgeland’s somewhat drawn-out screenplay, and although much of it is hardly as tense and engrossing as one might’ve expected, Mystic River, anchored by top-notch filmmaking and a series of first-class performances, nevertheless manages to sustain the viewer’s interest for the duration of its admittedly overlong running time of 138 minutes. It’s clear, ultimately, that Eastwood does a superb job of wholeheartedly embracing the unabashedly bleak subject matter, as Mystic River has, for the most part, been hard-wired with a perpetual somberness that’s rarely, if ever, alleviated by moments of levity or lightheartedness (with this vibe certainly echoed in the subdued, grim work of the movie’s various actors). The movie’s watchable atmosphere persists right up until around the third act, after which point Mystic River essentially (and effectively) transforms into a gripping, absorbing thriller that paves the way for an electrifying finale – which does, in the end, confirm the film’s place as a solid adaptation that succeeds, if nothing else, as a better-than-average actor’s showcase.
*** out of ****