Saturday, October 25, 2003

Mystic River

*No spoilers* Almost a very good movie. More noir than I'd expected. Two major flaws though. The baseball equivalent would be a towering shot, hit in the bottom of the ninth, down by three runs, with the bases loaded, that looks good off the bat but hooks way, way foul. Then the batter strikes out swinging at eye-high 95 mile per hour gas.

First, it was wholly predictable, to the point that I not only knew what was going to happen but exactly what the characters were going say -- even how the scene would be shot, what the camera angle would be. I was saying dialogue along with the characters just to prove I could. "When was the last time I saw Dave Boyle? The last time I saw Dave Boyle was in back window of a car driving down this very street ..." Penn and I solemnly intoned those lines simultaneously. It shouldn't be so easy. And, no, I haven't read the book and hadn't read any spoilers.

The second flaw was even more damaging, what was supposed to (I think) be the moral underpinning of the film, a sort of hard-boiled cynicism, was really nothing more than hypocrisy. I'm all for the hard-boiled cynicism. I think Eastwood maybe even thought that was what he was serving up, but that wasn't cynicism. If realism is "when a strong kid fights a weaker kid, the stronger kid will almost always win," and cyncism is "the strong kid, knowing this, will intimidate and pick fights with weaker kids," then what Mystic River says is: "well, I know it's wrong for the stronger kid to beat up the weaker kid but if he feels bad about it after for a little while then, hey, he is the stronger kid after all and boys will be boys!" I have to be vague to keep the no spoiler promise, but if the movie had just been 'the guy does the bad thing, gets away with it, feels a little remorse, then gets over it,' then fine -- I don't need the scales to balance and for everyone to get what's coming to them; the world doesn't always work that way. What I can't abide is for the storyteller to take the bad guy's side against the other guy and make out like the other guy maybe is better having been done over by the bad guy. He's not.

Even though I've slacked off the metareviewing, I can't turn off the bullshit detector; so, I feel obliged to point out Stephanie Zacharek's review at Salon is full of holes. Eastwood inventing a new subgenre of noir? Hardly. And she's reading an awful lot between the lines (that isn't there) when she concludes the fake cops who abduct the Dave character at the beginning of the movie are able to deduce that the Dave kid is somehow more vulnerable than Jimmy or Sean. It wasn't that at all, it's just that he was the only one that didn't live on the same block, so of course he's the only one they can plausibly lure into their car by telling him they're going to drive him home. And the assertion "it's Penn's Jimmy we feel the most for..."? Whoa, did she not watch the end. Maybe if she left when I felt the movie should've ended that would make sense, but not after sitting through that wrong note of an epilogue. Zacharek also fails to critique the movie's other less glaring missteps: that somehow both cops would've failed to listen to the 911 tape as soon as it was available to them, the disjointed ineffectiveness of the Bacon character's subplot, Penn's dogged insistence on doing DeNiro impersonations, that it's too easy to figure out what really happened, which undermines the second half of the film's ham-fisted attempts to convince the audience that an obviously innocent character might be the guilty party. Now that I think about it, that last thing irks me more. It's all aired out, they've given us motive, opportunity, evidence, the whole shebang, then immediately try to convince us we should think something else by waving their hands in front our face, mumbling some freaky nonsense, and turning the nozzle on the smoke machine so it's blowing up our ass. I don't vote Republican, I'm not falling for that.

Still, I'd recommend the movie as a matinee or a rental, because you can see where, if Eastwood had any real moral sense, he might've been able to craft a damn fine film noir.
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