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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What's the story?
MYSTIC RIVER explores the impact of an unbearable tragedy on two generations in a community bounded by the river of the title. When they were kids, Jimmy, Sean, and Dave were causing mischief when a man posing as a cop told Dave to get in his car. Dave was molested for days until he ran away. As adults, Jimmy (Sean Penn), Dave (Tim Robbins), and Sean (Kevin Bacon) are no longer friends. They're reunited by the murder of Jimmy's daughter Katie (Emmy Rossem). Sean is the detective assigned to the case, Dave and his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) provide comfort and support to Jimmy's family after Katie's death. As Jimmy and Sean both use whatever resources they have to find out what happened to Katie, the past pulls at them. The characters and their stories grow more and more tangled, like strands of seaweed swept by strong current.
Is it any good?
Mystic River has big, serious star power and big, serious themes; there are moments of power and flickers of meaning, but it is ultimately hollow and unsatisfying. A lifetime of history in the same place has all of the characters overlapping, intersecting, and echoing each other's lives. Jimmy and Sean are boyhood friends who ended up on opposite sides. Each struggles in his own way with survivor guilt over not being the one who got in the molester's car and with issues of justice. Each struggles to find meaning after a random, devastating incident. Dave struggles with his sense of himself as the boy who escaped "from the wolves" but who never really escaped.
Director and jazz fan Clint Eastwood plays his big, showy cast like a jazz ensemble. Rossem's brief appearance makes her character's death a wrenching loss. Robbins, Harden, Robbins, Laura Linney, and Penn are each given a moment to step forward and pull out all the stops. The cast delivers in the big moments, but at other times performances feel condescending, as though the actors have to work hard to play characters who are not as smart as they are. At the end it is all about the show, not the substance, and these themes and these stories deserve better.
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