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Mystic River

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane

Movie Based on a Book Review by Terry D'Auray © 2003



Dennis Lehane's Novel 'Mystic River' Reviewed by Terry D'Auray,Mystery, General Fiction


Mystic River - the movie? I can see the allure for a filmmaker. Dennis Lehane's 'Mystic River' was a compelling meaty novel, mixing tension and violence with social history in an accessible working class setting, anchored by three vividly drawn, compelling characters with distinctive, fleshed out personalities, histories and life experiences. Done at all well, it screams "Oscar".

It's also a supremely challenging novel to turn into a film that runs only two hours. The novel provides layer upon layer of narrative with characters and relationships that develop over three decades. What to cut, what to keep? How to narrow the story's focus without gutting the story's power?

When I first read that 'Mystic River' was being filmed, I groaned. Then I read that Clint Eastwood was directing, and felt a little better. Assuming, of course, that it was the good Clint Eastwood, the one who directed 'Unforgiven', 'The Perfect World', 'Bird' and even 'The Bridges of Madison County', not his evil twin who made 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' boring and who co-starred in multiple movies with an orangutan. Then I read that Eastwood had cast Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon in the leading roles, and felt better still. Like many readers, I often "cast" novels as I read them, and the only difference between what Eastwood pulled off in fact and I pulled off in fantasy was Edward Norton in place of Kevin Bacon.

It was indeed the good Clint Eastwood at the helm. 'Mystic River' the movie, is a precisely honed, finely tuned cinematic rendering of the book, and far truer to it's novel's roots than are most book-into-movies. Eastwood stripped all of the childhood and boy-growing-into man components of the novel, and focused solely on the crucial establishing childhood abduction scene and the concluding murder some 25 years later. He kept the novel's pace and structure, cutting from character to character to propel the story. But most importantly, he told the story - simply, cleanly, and without gimmickry. One needn't have read the book to understand and be absorbed by the movie -the required elements are all in place. The essence of Lehane's story shines through; the power of Lehane's characters are fully realized on film.

The acting in 'Mystic River' is exceptional. Reviewers, quite justly, have singled out Sean Penn's performance, but Tim Robbins' portrayal of Dave warrants equal accolades, as do superb supporting performances by Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Hardin and Lawrence Fishburne.

If you've read the book, you'll not be disappointed by the movie; if you haven't read the book, don't be misled into thinking that because you know "what happened", the novel will hold no surprises. Eastwood made a terrific movie using only a part of Lehane's book; there's far more substance left to savor by reading the whole story.