Mystic River Movie Poster Image

Mystic River



Powerful performances in graphic story. Only 16+.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2003
  • Running Time: 137 minutes

What parents need to know


Violence and tense scenes, dead body, murders. Tense scenes.


Sexual references, including child molestation (offscreen).


Very strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A lot of drinking and smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie has graphic violence, including murders. While some of the violence and the child molestation occur off-screen, the depictions are still deeply disturbing. Characters drink and smoke a great deal and use very strong language.

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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the way that even people who are not directly victims of tragic events can be as haunted by them as those who are.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 8, 2003
DVD/Streaming release date:June 7, 2004
Cast:Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins
Director:Clint Eastwood
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:137 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language and violence

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Adult Written byrussp April 9, 2008

I wish I had not watched it.

Had I read CSM's review first I probably would not have gotten it. I got this movie with a free coupon to purchase a previously viewed DVD. The coupon had limited movie choices. I picked one I was unfamiliar with. Bad mistake. I kept hoping the movie would have some reedeming value. It did not. CSM's review is accurate. I wouldn't want any 'kids' under 99 watching this. Dark. Humorless. Unhappy ending. I can think of a ton of ways to discuss the issues in this movie with our kids than by watching this. A movie that too closly depicts the actual evil in this world. - Parent of two teens.
Educator and Parent of a 6 and 8 year old Written byklittle April 9, 2008

Intense Adult Content

Excellent movie: moving, gripping, powerful. Very important and intense social content. Not appropriate for teen viewing unless very mature and when accompanied by a responsible adult.
Adult Written bygavin m. jackson April 9, 2008

Opposite of Kill Bill

Both Kill Bill and Mystic River deal with violence, but in very different ways. I think they are both amazing films, but it is interesting to see the exploitive blood spillage in Kill Bill and the few acts of violence in Mystic River contrast each other. Mystic River has one act of sexual violence that transcends generations and becomes part of a Boston neighborhood. The acts of violence in this film carry weight that is too much for these characters to carry in their hearts, and eventually their true colors are displayed. The metaphor for the River and the acts of human beings is strong and well displayed. The river runs always ahead, looking pretty much the same on the top. But under the surface are secrets, bodies, and murder weapons. Much as the way we see a normal Boston neighborhood, but under the surface characters show their weaknesses and strengths through acts of kindness, murder, and sorrow. Note: There can not be enough praise for Clint Eastwood in this film. He strips the story down to its bare essentials, and lets the actors dominate the screen. Every actor in this film is at the top of their game. This is Sean Penn's greatest performance.


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