Sunday, April 11, 2004

Movie Review: Mystic River

I can't think of another movie I've seen that kept me so intrigued and had me convinced it was a very good film only to have it wind up with the most completely worthless and incongruous ending possible.

Not an ending that I didn't agree with but one that simply didn't fit with anything else that had gone before. You can literally feel the suspension of disbelief fall out from under you in those last 10-12 minutes of the film.

I should be clear in pointing out that this is a very small part of the whole film, after the climax, after such cliched scenes as the cops arriving at the last minute to avert a point-blank shooting. The film had been so good at that point that it didn't matter if scenes like that were cliched. Do these last few minutes render the previous two hours of superb drama void? No, but they do seriously detract from what otherwise is a very good film.

It's as if director Clint Eastwood decided he had to do something so contrary so as to distinguish himself as a serious film-maker

It's as if he, during the time they were filming those scenes that make up the pathetic resolution, was on a David Lynch film-watching binge and decided he would pay tribute to the modern day cinematic surrealist.

It's as if he decided to direct the actors to play their roles in those scenes as if they had all dropped LSD.

A brief synopsis: 3 childhood friends playing in the street, one is abducted and sexually molested over a 4-day period, leaving him emotionally broken. Flash forward 35 years or so and the 3 have all led drastically different lives, no longer friends although they still see each other occasionally in the Boston neighbourhood they grew up in. The character Jimmy Markum (played by Sean Penn), a hard-case who has done time and still has one foot in the crooked lifestyle, has a 19 year-old daughter who is murdered. This is the event that brings the former friends back together.

Dave Boyle (the one who as a child had been molested--played by Tim Robbins), now a broken man, seems to be a suspect for the murder (and Eastwood does everything to make the viewer think this is plausible) while the detective investigating the crime, Sean Devine (played by Kevin Bacon) is the other friend.

Back to the fucked up ending.

What happens in those last few minutes that skews things so badly?


After having murdered his childhood friend based on the false belief that he had killed his daughter, Markum is sitting on a kerb in the cold light of dawn as detective Devine drives up and informs him that the real killers have been found. The dismissive, blase reaction of both characters (Markum makes it clear he has killed Boyle) is totally ridiculous in light of what has transpired. After the soul searching and gut-wrenching events that have wracked the main characters throughout, this "shit happens," response is bizarre not least for the fact that Devine is a cop who has, together with his partner Whitey Powers, made it clear during the film that they possess the usual loathing that cinematic cops feel for criminals.

The character of Whitey Powers (a great performance by Lawrence Fishburne) is annoyingly absent in these last scenes. Anyone who sees the film will know that he would have been determined to bust Markum for his murderous error yet...nothing(?)

Minutes later in another scene, Markum's white-trash wife gets horny and beds her tit of a husband, telling him how incredible he is because he topped someone who he THOUGHT, albeit incorrectly, had killed their daughter(?) Granted a secondary theme that runs throughout the drama is how the three wives of the main characters react and deal with the violence their husbands are affected by and perpetrate. However, this scene is a misplaced piece from a mob drama that shows the twisted psyche of women who are turned on by dangerous men. It simply has no place here.

As the movie ends, Markum, his freshly fucked whore of a wife and a few of his scum flunkies descend into the street to watch a parade that is passing by. Markum is shown bathed in sunlight, a beatific glow on his face. The horror of his slaughtered daughter that had driven him to scream in anguish to the gods for the duration of the film all but forgotten. A strange finale to this movie.

The only angle I can see that the director was trying to play was perhaps to point to the selfishness of Markum, essentially a two-bit punk who in middle age is still dabbling in petty organized crime and using violence to control others. Were those tears he was crying during the previous scenes really for himself? Perhaps but it doesn't wash with the overall tone of the film nor is it believable within the parameters established.

If it was done to increase the sense of pathos one feels for the downtrodden and truly pathetic character of Boyle and to highlight the inexplicable turns in life that never follow the paths we would like, then it fails.

In fact this had been accomplished superbly throughout the film but the asinine afterthought of the resolution tarnishes and leaves the audience shaking their heads.

Despite the criticisms, this is a film worth seeing. Grief, revenge, the vagaries of chance, the wide-ranging consequences of actions—these are all themes that are hammered home in a convincing and often haunting way.

"You may be finished with the past, but the past ain't finished with you, motherfucker."