Mystic River

Eastwood's Mystic River

Three current box-office titans raise the question: How do you like your movie violence? As schlocky entertainment (the shamelessly gruesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre)? As cheeky art-house stylization (Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill-Vol. 1)? Or as profound moral inquiry? Leave it to Clint Eastwood to understand the Commonweal moviegoer and answer us with Mystic River, his somber study of life-and death-in Irish-Catholic Boston.

Eastwood adapted his twenty-third film as director (and one of the very few in which he does not himself appear) from Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, a piece of high-gloss crime fiction with serious literary ambitions. Both novel and film begin on a lazy summer day in 1976 amid the drab triple-deckers of South Boston, where three boys are messing around in their neighborhood. They’re scrawling their names in the wet cement of a fresh sidewalk repair when a car pulls up, and a pair of seedy-looking men-one flashes a badge-orders one of the boys into the car. The men are not cops, however, but sexual predators, who carry the boy off to a dark basement, where he endures four days of hell before escaping. The offense hits the neighborhood with a sense of irreparable violation. “Looks like damaged goods to me,” one cop remarks, as the boy is returned home.

Fast forward a quarter-century. The boys have grown up: Jimmy (Sean Penn), who has remade himself into a responsible father...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper, one of Commonweal's film critics, is the author of two works of fiction, The Last To Go and Big as Life.