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Movie Review:

"Mystic River"

The professional critic reviews are almost unanimous. Ebert, Rolling Stone, New Yorker: four stars across the board.

Clint Eastwood has gotten so many raves for his directing, from "Unforgiven" to "Bridges of Madison County" to "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", and this type of film almost hearkens back to his "Dirty Harry" days, as it appears on the surface to be a cop thriller, a murder mystery, when a 19-year-old girl is brutally murdered after appearing in only one scene.

But it's more than that; it's about three friends, boys in the mid-1970's, one of whom is literally snatched off the street one day when they are playing street hockey, and sexually abused. Now grown, the three men, who are no longer close, are all affected by this long-ago tragedy.

Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins play the three men, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that all three could come away with Best Actor nominations for their roles. Each one of them steps way out of their past roles, and stretches his limits, showing deep pain and emotion for things that have happened in their past. Penn's daughter is the one who is murdered, and we feel for him, but as we learn more about him, that sympathy turns dark, as he hasn't lived an exemplary life. Bacon's the cop, who investigates along with his partner (Laurence Fishburne, who provides the voice of reason), but even he has a secret: a wife who has left him and who calls him every now and then, but says nothing. And Robbins plays the grown version of the kid who was kidnapped, and his pain is almost palpable. I give Bacon particular credit here, because he has often been treated with disdain by critics and the public, made fun of in the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game invented originally by some college students, but Bacon establishes himself here as one of the best actors of his generation.

I'll say no more about the police investigation of the murder, which seems almost secondary to the characters finding out who they really are, and the wives of the Penn and Robbins characters (Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden, respectively) both grow during the film from silent women backing up their men, to pivotal roles in both solving the crime, and opening up years of suppressed emotions.

The film is set in Boston and shot in a very stark grainy light, and shows off the middle-class neighborhood in which it is set extremely well. There are people, my wife included, who didn't like the ending, but I thought it neatly summed up the real struggles that people go through and the things that they sometimes need to bury, and what happens when the past is suddenly wrenched into the present.

Cub fan note: one of the principal characters in this film is named Brendan Harris, and when I first heard that name I flinched, because a player named Brendan Harris is one of the Cubs' top infield prospects. The character is about that age, too. Weird.

AYRating: **** (yeah, I agree with everyone else. Bigtime Oscar material)