Harden, who arrived in Boston early to immerse herself in the blue-collar world of Mystic River, felt a kinship with her character. "The story has an immediate, personal connection for me," says the actress, "because Celeste has a young son, and I'm a mother with a four-year-old daughter. It also greatly appealed to me because it questions that moment in life when innocence is lost."
While Dave was just trying to survive and get by, Jimmy followed a more turbulent route, developing into something of a criminal mastermind over the years. Running his own gang at the tender age of seventeen, he seemed untouchable. He married the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood and the two soon had a young daughter. Things might have gone on that way forever, until an associate rolled on him, ratting Jimmy out in exchange for a lighter sentence and condemning him to serve two years at Deer Island.
Tragically, his young wife was stricken with cancer while he was locked up, and when Jimmy got out he found himself a 22-year-old widower and the sole parent to a little girl who barely recognized him as her father. With 5-year-old Katie as his motivation, Jimmy determined to turn his back on his criminal past. Returning to the neighborhood to run a corner grocery, he re-married and had two other daughters. As their family continued to grow, Katie remained the light of his life. On the day she is found dead in Pen Park, that light goes out forever.
"Mystic River deals with a kind of unimaginable pain," says Sean Penn. "I found myself drawing from the writing and the other actors. We spent a lot of time together, reading through the script and trying to find a kind of peace with the things that occur and the choices that are made. Our job was to make these impossibly painful situations dramatically understandable."
Jimmy's anchor throughout the tragedy is his love for his daughters and the strength of his fiercely devoted wife, whose loyalty to those closest to her knows no bounds. "Annabeth is tough; very, very tough," says Laura Linney of her character. "She's like a mother lion, very protective, with a huge sense of pride and entitlement. She's always on guard - she's got an 'I dare you' quality about her."
As Jimmy was serving time, his boyhood buddy Sean aligned with the other side of the law, becoming a Massachusetts State homicide detective. Increasingly alienated from humanity by the never-ending indiscriminate cruelty he sees in the course of his investigations, and separated from his wife except for her painful, silent phone calls, Sean has come to question the meaning of his efforts.