The Good, The Bad, and the Guilty

MiMi Yeh

For fans of Dennis Lehane, the long-awaited movie version of his bestseller Mystic River does not disappoint. And for those who aren’t familiar with his body of work, it’s still a cinematic chiller. In this film there are no innocent victims, only the guilty waiting for redemption. Though it is a powerful tale of vengeance and the strength of a father’s love, it is ultimately a mother who steals the scene.

Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) is a grizzled ex-con made legit by the corner store he runs and the family he has until his eldest daughter, Katie Markum (Emmy Rossum), is brutally murdered the night before she is scheduled to elope to Las Vegas with boyfriend Brendan Harris (Tom Guiry). He isn’t the first to be hit by tragedy, however.

As a child, we see Jimmy playing hockey in the streets of South Boston with friends Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) and Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) until they decide to write their names in wet cement. Dave, the last to start scrawling his initials, never finishes. This morphs into a metaphor for the unfinished, dissonant symphony that his life and personality become later on, the effects of being kidnapped and sexually assaulted by two men posing as cops.

Adult Dave is shiftless, often stares into space, and spends his time rambling about wolves to his own son. This bit of overacting detracts from the suspenseful and serious storytelling even though it is supposed to be an allusion to the emotional scars that such victims often carry. It carries the point but could have been left out.

Meanwhile, Sean and Jimmy went in opposite directions. Now working as a detective, Sean ends up renewing their friendship while working on the case of his old friend’s dead daughter. He’s caught up in his own internal struggles, with a wife that periodically calls him only to sit in silence. Again, this seems to be a tangent with little or no relevance to the overall plot.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film gives us a breathtaking view of every parent’s worst nightmare-the child that never comes home. What first appears as your average whodunit becomes less about justice and more about revenge. Jimmy, using his family ties to local hoods, sets out on a relentless search for someone, anyone, to take the blame. It consumes him in the moments where he isn’t trapped in quiet contemplation of his memories of Katie. Jimmy’s wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) questions him when he’s in the waiting room of the morgue, hoping that it isn’t their daughter. “Maybe it’s someone else?” she begs. It’s parental devotion at its best: irrational, hopeful, and unconditional.

Having lived in South Boston, I wondered how Hollywood would treat this suburb. To my surprise, they got the accent right and didn’t try to sex up the neighborhood bars or the sagging triple-deckers, faithfully maintaining the working class atmosphere. The film does a tremendous job of portraying fear, whether it’s Dave’s wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and her nagging doubts about her husband’s sanity, or Brendan’s fear of Jimmy. It doesn’t capitalize on gratuitous shots of Katie’s beaten body; we catch only a brief glimpse before flashing on to Jimmy’s tortured face. Instead, the movie does an effective job of giving us the brutal details while sparing us the obsessive shots of her gore-spattered form. The total running time for “Mystic River” is 137 minutes and is rated R for language and violence. Overall, a must see with 3.5 stars out of 4.