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(2003) directed by Clint Eastwood
To simplify, this dark crime drama is basically Law & Order with excellent acting.
It features two crime situations: one in the past and one in the present. The present day investigation reminds me of the established Law & Order formula and its clever, yet predictable twist. Being familiar with the TV show, I saw the twist coming fairly early. The past crime and its consequences remind me of the spin-off Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The likable cop (Kevin Bacon) is personally involved in the investigation and the past crime is too horrible to openly confront; these are two recurrent themes for SVU.
The acting is excellent all around, with Tim Robbins and Sean Penn claiming the most rewarding parts. Robbins is a shoe-in to win Best Supporting Actor at the 2004 Academy Awards. For a supporting bit, it's a large and dramatic role that Robbins masters. Likewise, Penn may walk away with Best Actor; although, I think it should probably go to Bill Murray for Lost in Translation. James Berardinelli called Penn the best living American actor–a sentiment I can agree with. Penn does not yet have an Academy Award, but probably should have one for reliably great performances (4 nominations to date, including one of my favorites in Dead Man Walking). (Un)fortunately, the award is for best performance of the year, rather than best actor. Murray was better in his performance.
Back to the movie, it is much better than Sleepers, which has a similar plot and also features Kevin Bacon in a lead role. Though the all-star cast is excellent, I hesitate to call it a great film. There's too much adherence to a simple formula. While VanSant relishes in both glorifying and demonizing the conventional movie formula to great effect in Elephant (another good film from 2003), Eastwood seems simply confined to it in Mystic River. Perhaps this is why Elphant walked away with the Golden Palm at Cannes (1993), instead of Mystic River.
Overall, Mystic River is an enjoyable Law & Order type crime drama, featuring excellent acting. I've got a season pass for both Law & Order and Special Victims Unit on TiVo, so I can appreciate the storyline, but I expect more from a truly great film. As such, I give it an 8 out of 10 on the good movie scale. I give it a 3 on the bad movie scale for the same reason.