DVD - Image A Sound A Extras B
BD - Image B+ Sound A Extras B
starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne
screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Dennis Lahane
directed by Clint Eastwood
by Walter Chaw Opening like a Stephen King story of a group of friends falling from innocence into experience, Clint Eastwood's latest elegy for the myth of man strains at the edge of hysterical, offering up a testosterone-rich soup of In the Bedroom parental melodrama that compels for its pervasive doom, but disappoints for its didactic simplicity. Still, there's something to the tribal primitivism of the picture, the idea that man at his essence is composed of balanced portions of nobility and violence and that our society, perhaps, is no different: the past the muddy headwaters of the titular mystic river. The picture is a rhyme of Eastwood's A Perfect World, complete with spiralling shots of the sky through branches--the evocation of a Naturalism at war with any illusion of moral spirituality or humanism, with its heroes criminals shaded equally by the instinct to violence and the instinct to nurture.
Three friends play street hockey on a chilly afternoon in autumnal Boston, the loss of their ball down a sewer an ominous symbol of wholeness swallowed by entropy; Dave (played by Tim Robbins as an adult), interrupted while writing his name in wet cement, is another. The incompleteness of the characters twenty-five years later is referred to with a few looks at the imperfectly vandalized cement, an image that suggests not only the truncation of youth (and Dave has a speech about dreaming of a childhood he wasn't allowed to finish), but also the impossibility of ever addressing the deficiencies of the past. When Dave has second thoughts about his son looking into the same sewer drain for the wealth of balls lost there, Mystic River establishes itself as meticulous, for good or for ill, in its carefully structured layers of symbol and echo.
Of Dave's two friends, Sean (Kevin Bacon) becomes a homicide detective with a truculent partner, Whitey (Laurence Fishburne), and an estranged wife who calls periodically but never speaks, while Jimmy (Sean Penn), once a hardboiled hood, has dedicatedly turned his life over to the legitimate for the sake of his daughter (clear-eyed Emmy Rossum), hunched over accounting books in the back room of his neighbourhood grocery. The stars of the film, however, are the wives and daughters of the men--the catalyst and loci of action and rage, frustration and melancholy. Dave is married to mousy Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden), Sean to his mute witness, and Jimmy to ice queen Annabeth (Laura Linney), who has the dubious distinction of vomiting up a ridiculous summation: a florid variation on the "you the man" theme.
When Mystic River works, it works by finding the poetry in the cult of manhood--a Robert Bly shrine, in its way, that identifies the cross-beams of a male's crucifix, now and forever, as culture in ascendance and beast in denial. Eastwood clarifies his running thesis (White Hunter, Black Heart, Unforgiven, Bird) that man's only aspiration is to mythologize his basest instincts (to protect the women, to dominate the men)--base instincts that refuse to be honourable in any civilized context. The picture is pleasingly sombre and its performances seem well-modulated for all the histrionics of the material; Eastwood continues to demonstrate a bracing trust in his own rhythms and sensibilities, and Brian Helgeland's script, for all its machinations and Greek doubling structure (taken faithfully from Dennis Lehane's novel), is strong if not particularly understated. Mystic River, in fact, is a lot like its theory of masculinity: this brute phantom that haunts every generation like a pestilence passed down through a sex act that, in the film, is reduced to either sadism and exploitation or a celebration of the same. Children are the only hope of salvation, the picture suggests, and the irony of our lives is our inability not to sacrifice them at the altar of living. Originally published: October 15, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Warner issues Mystic River on DVD in competing 2-disc widescreen and fullscreen editions as well as in a "3-Disc Deluxe Edition," whose slot for a third platter belongs to a CD of Clint Eastwood's complete score. We received the standard widescreen version for review, but note that all three releases are identical in the way of special features, starting with a film-length yak-track from stars Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon in which the pair generally refrains from commenting on performances other than their own, a tactic that leads to much dead air. Since these two are all over the video-based supplements, their commentary is definitely an either/or proposition, and certainly not the equal of the second disc's featurette "Mystic River: Beneath the Surface" (23 mins.). A terrific overview of the film's themes, the piece includes significant contribution from novelist Dennis Lahane, who calls the book and Brian Helgeland's adaptation of it a satire of marriage and reveals that Laura Linney's monologue was absent from the first draft of the screenplay. (Linney, for what it's worth, is mesmerizingly foxy in her interview footage, during which she gets tongue-tied describing Penn's work ethic.) Less spoilerish and consequently more of a sales pitch is "Mystic River: From Page to Screen" (12 mins.), which ironically spends comparatively little time with Lahane and Helgeland despite its titular focus on the script.
Charlie Rose separately grills Eastwood, Robbins, and Bacon in segments from his talk show recorded on 10/08/03, 10/13/03, and 12/26/03, respectively, that last 41 mins., 50 mins., and 19 mins.. Rarely one to dwell on past successes, Eastwood is guardedly introspective in his responses to Rose's nostalgia-baiting, though his hindsight view of Unforgiven is intelligent bordering on academic (he talks about the flick in terms of The Schofield Kid's poor eyesight) and he comes off a lot like Howard Hawks when discussing his unobtrusive visual style. Robbins reviews his signature roles and speaks passionately about working with Robert Altman (though conversation inevitably devolves into a defense of the actor's politics) while Bacon owns up to having only somewhat willingly become a professional second-banana in recent years--he admits that a bruised ego almost prevented him from accepting a smaller role in Jane Campion's In the Cut after the director cast relative newcomer Mark Ruffalo in the lead.
So it's a talky DVD, but a pretty good one that happens to sport a brilliant 2.36:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. To date, no Eastwood film has been preserved this beautifully on the format, though I dread the misconceptions people will have regarding the fidelity of the image to Mystic River's cadaverous palette. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix lushly reproduces Eastwood's music (strangely reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti's Wild at Heart compositions), really the only sound element to substantially occupy the rear channels. (The sequence in which Katie's corpse is discovered does make full use of the discrete environment, however.) Mystic River's theatrical trailer and Eastwood-narrated teaser trailer round out the set. Originally published: June 28, 2004.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Warner brings Mystic River to Blu-ray in a handsome if slightly archaic 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. My issue is with skin tones: although the movie's steely palette seems to intentionally render everyone cadaverous, the way that facial shadows will drop off into grey instead of some shade of the actor's complexion has the effect of making the movie look colorized at moments, and suggests an artifact of early D/I techniques. Detail runs a little thick but is leaps and bounds beyond that of the SD alternative, while the contrast has excellent dynamic range. The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA track brings a lot more warmth and presence to Eastwood's score, though the mix itself is uninspired in pairing well-miked actors with only the most obvious foley effects. The Robbins/Bacon commentary resurfaces here along with all the video-based special features of the 2-disc DVD. The latter are presented in 16x9-enhanced standard definition--save the "Charlie Rose" segments, which are still 4:3. Originally published: February 2, 2010.