Magazine article The Christian Century

Scarred for Life

Magazine article The Christian Century

Scarred for Life

Article excerpt

DATING BACK to his "man with no name" westerns and including his recurring role as Dirty Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood has embraced projects that rely on his own version of the three R's: remorse, revenge and redemption. His combination of wounded morality and grim artistry peaked in 1993 with the revisionist western Unforgiven, a chilling tale of a gunfighter who fully comprehends the sinful life he has led ("It's a hell of a thing to kill a man") but proves helpless to do anything about it.

Critics have been treating Mystic River with the same reverence, but the praise is misplaced. It is a very good film, with moments so pure and painful they catch you mid-breath, but it is pocked with too many story flaws to be a masterpiece.

The tale begins in a tough Boston neighborhood where three 11-year-olds--Jimmy, Scan and Dave--are hanging out and causing mischief. A car pulls up. Two men, claiming to he policemen, chew them out and take away Dave. It turns out they are not cops but predators, who subject Dave to four days of sexual torture before he is able to escape.

This opening flashback is one of the best sequences in the film, grabbing us quickly and continuing to squeeze. Eastwood's use of memory-inducing yellow light is particularly strong here. He photographs much of the action at dusk.

Fast-forward 25 years to 2000. Dave is now a husband and father, though it is clear that the tragedy of those four days still haunts him. As played by Tim Robbins, Dave gives off the air of a man who expects the worst from life, while stumbling forward as best he can.

His two buddies from that fateful day are still in the neighborhood. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is a small-time thief who is trying to keep his nose clean after a two-year prison term. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a homicide detective with anger issues and a drinking problem.

They seem to be traveling through parallel universes, barely recognizing each other's existence, until a second tragedy brings them together again. Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter, Katie, is murdered. Sean is put on the case. And Dave is a suspect.

A copious exposition of their scarred lives juxtaposed with the ongoing murder investigation, constitutes the movie's second act. We discover, for instance, that Jimmy's first wife died of cancer when he was in jail, and that he swore to go straight for Katie's sake. It is also the reason he married the tough as-nails Annabeth (Laura Linney). …

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