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Mystic River

Starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon;Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney
Screenplay by Brian Helgeland
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Directed by Clint Eastwood

IN SHORT: Fine performances vs. Glacial pace. Your toss up. [Rated R for language and violence. 137 minutes]

Events that occur during childhood have a nasty habit of coming back to cause great, in this case, emotional damage to grownups. That kind of generic story structure is a mainstay of films made for t he art house and the best of 'em are made with A-list and talented actors who are allowed to take their time to build characters and suck the audience deep into the emotional wallows that spread out over the two or so hours of screen time. When you let actors like Sean Penn and Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon free under the actor friendly hand of director Clint Eastwood, you are going to get a film that is at minimum, art house friendly and at maximum, a torrential emotional experience. When said film begins with a flash back sequence, it's a given that something significant will happen in that sequence that will affect events a couple of decades down the line. Any half-knowledgeable grownup knows that a patient sit will be required and that, if all goes well, there will be a major payoff as the film hits its climax. We can vouch for that twist. Why there is no "traditional" Cranky dollar rating at the bottom of the page -- we know you looked -- will be explained in about six sentences.

We begin that flashback in Boston, with kidlets Jimmy and Sean and Dave doing as kidlets will do, scraping their names into freshly laid cement. Jimmy and Sean have made their mark. Dave is two letters away from finishing when two men in black roll up, flashing handcuffs and saying they're police. They yell at the kids and tell 'em to get into the back of the unmarked unit.

And then, in the privacy of a critic's screening at the studio screening room, a cell phone goes ring ring ring and some fat jerk answers "Hey! Hi, yeah I'm watching the new Clint Eastwood movie. Guess who's not in it?" Another real critic, sitting behind us, snaps "Put that away!"

The jerk continues, "Nah, it hasn't started yet. Just some kids on the screen."
And more than one critic yells at the jerk to "Put the phone away!" to which the jerk yells back, "Hey! I'm talking here!"

One critical voice, in a tone threatening violence, replies "Hang up and put it away!" And el jerk finally did, once he saw the brand name stars on screen and was sure that the movie had, indeed, started.

We tell you this story because, without whatever we missed in those first five minutes of flashback, Clint Eastwood's Mystic River is a plodding, boring movie so uninteresting that another jerk two seats to our left fell asleep and started snoring. We had to wake her up (and that took a while). What we missed while el jerk was on the cell phone was that the "cops" weren't and poor Davey has never been the same since -- adults can figure out that veiled reference easily. Missing that little bit of detail means that the glacial pace of the "present day" bulk of the film works against making quick connections between the kidlets and their grown counterparts or why, apparently, they haven't remained friends in all the years since.

Of course, missing that five minutes may mean nothing more than we missed five minutes of a plodding movie.

Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) seems to have grown into the criminal life. He looks tough, wears leather, and rides herd over a pair of feared mugs called the Savage Brothers, even though we had to go digging through the press notes to discover that Jimmy gave that life up long ago to run a corner market. We see that in the film but still surmise that the market is a cover for local gang type activity. Jimmy and the Savages are well known to the local cops -- here we find Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) and cop partner Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne) who are investigating a brutal murder of a girl who turns out to be Jimmy's daughter. The third man out is Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) who, thanks to all the stuff we missed, is a fairly broken man. He subsists on menial jobs and the support of wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden), whose belief in her hubby will prove to be a most important plot point as you near the end. So will the fact that Dave came home one night, covered in blood. He says he was mugged but, there is that murder . . .

The cops investigate. Jimmy's criminal pals investigate. Vengeance and/or justice will be had. But boy does it take a long time to get there.

Laura Linney plays Jimmy's wife Annabeth Markum which fills out the proper acknowledgement of our roster of stars. There is no "traditional" Cranky dollar rating at the bottom of the page because the twist that hits at the end of the film is so utterly brilliant that we have no doubt that whatever it was that we missed (and whatever that was destroyed any possibility of raving about the film) was so truly important that, if we can find the time, we'll plant again and try to do this right.

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