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Blu-ray Review: Mystic River

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Mystic River does not represent Clint Eastwood's first Academy Award nomination for Best Director and it wasn't his last. It also was not his first or last nomination for Best Picture. Although Mystic River didn't win either of those awards – it did capture an acting award for Sean Penn and a supporting actor award for Tim Robbins – some would argue it may be Eastwood's finest work.

The film, which is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, stars the aforementioned Robbins and Penn as well as Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden (who was also nominated for an Academy Award for her role), and Laura Linney. It is a great cast and all the members of it are well up to the task given them. Mystic River is an incredibly dark movie, one which starts with the abduction and sexual abuse of a young boy, Dave Boyle, and then picks up the story years later when the boy is grown (and now played by Tim Robbins) and has continued to suffer the after-effects of what happened to him.

Boyle still lives in the same neighborhood as does one of his childhood friends, Jimmy Markum (Penn), but the third member of their trio, Sean Devine (Bacon), has moved on to bigger and better things, joining the Massachusetts State Police. When Jimmy's oldest daughter is found murdered, it is Sean and his partner, Whitey Powers (Fishburne), who are called in to investigate.

Taking place in a strictly working class neighborhood, Mystic River is a noir film that pulls no punches. It focuses itself on its three main characters and the different paths their lives have taken from that first scene where Dave gets abducted. It is that moment that sets the tone for the movie and that moment which forever alters the lives of the characters. Jimmy, an ex-con, owns a convenience store; Dave is an undefined, but clearly low-level, blue collar worker; Sean, while he has managed to escape the neighborhood, has not grown past the events of the past as his being a police officer is a response to the fact that one of the men who abducted Dave did so while posing as a plainclothes officer. All of the characters in the story, not just the three men, have led difficult lives, not ones that they are necessarily unhappy with, but difficult nonetheless.

As the film progresses, Dave becomes the police's chief suspect in the murder and parallel investigations develop as Sean and Whitey pursue the truth within the law and Jimmy and some of his criminal associates pursue it on a more personal level. The film's murder mystery is a good one – there are enough red herrings, possible suspects, and moving parts to the investigation to keep the viewer interested.

It is however not the mystery but the characters and performances which make Mystic River a great movie. Almost every member of the ensemble cast has their own emotional turmoil that they are working through, and each cast member perfectly expresses their character's issue clearly and fully. Watching the movie, the audience almost truly begins to experience each pang of guilt, upset, dread, horror, and love that the characters feel.

Mystic River is a dark movie and the Blu-ray release features incredibly dark video as well. Characters are continually melting into the shadows, disappearing into the backgrounds. Eastwood's film features an extremely muted color palette; one won't find rich, bright colors in the release, but that is due to the chosen look of the film as opposed to any shortcoming in the video quality. There is still a great amount of detail present in the picture, at least there is in scenes which contain a decent amount of light (and not every scene does). While one may want to see more of some scenes than they can due to the darkness, the look of the film on Blu-ray feels to be exactly what the filmmakers intended, or at least it fits in perfectly with the overall aesthetic. The film is a dialogue-heavy one, and one that asks little of its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound presentation. When the surrounds do come into play – mainly with some of the outdoor settings – they do help situate the audience perfectly. The audio track is clean, and while one might have some trouble hearing some of the more quiet scenes, there is nothing really present for one to be distressed about.

The special features include a commentary track with Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon and two behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes, one of which originally aired on Bravo. Both of these are very traditional making-of pieces, delving into how the film came to be, but never really going very far beyond a promotional look at it. The Blu-ray case's description of the non-Bravo piece is misleading as the case states it is Dennis Lehane touring the neighborhood setting of his novel. While Lehane is present, the tour is at best metaphorical as he is on a soundstage talking about the film and the featurette is equally focused on him, the actors, Eastwood, and Brian Helgeland who wrote the screenplay. Additionally, it should be noted that the two featurettes do contain some of the same content. There are three interviews from The Charlie Rose Show – one with Eastwood, one with Robbins, and one with Bacon.

Mystic River is a great story, masterfully told. It compels one to watch, it urges one to watch, it forces one to watch, but make no mistake, it is not easy to watch. Just like with the lives of its characters, there's nothing easy about Mystic River, but it is an outstanding film.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.