Monday, December 01, 2003

Fragmented thoughts on Mark Steyn's review of Mystic River

Note: Spoilers to follow.

I've just been reading Mark Steyn's review (scroll down) of Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. I agree with him that it is a good movie, and I agree that Kevin Bacon's performance is the better of the three leads, and that Tim Robins' performance is a little too one note to be really good (although I think Sean Penn is actually great - I like this performance a little more than Steyn does). Laura Linney is superb, putting in a small performance of great subtlety that you don't really understand until the end. Steyn makes one other comment at the end.

The other interesting aspect, particularly after last week’s Kill Bill, is how timeless it is: despite all the detail in each shot – the coldness of a waterfront bar, the odd vulnerability of a corner store on an empty street – there’s no attempt to pin it down in time apart from some opening sports banter about the ’75 Red Sox season. Eastwood doesn’t use pop music to place his characters, preferring to compose his own somewhat lugubrious score. The result is something primal, elemental, tribal, as if the sleek modernity across the river is utterly irrelevant. If a Greek tragedy could be transposed to Boston, it would look a lot like this. I’m not saying Clint Eastwood’s Sophocles, but he does a passable impression.

Yes, but there is one curious detail. (Spoilers really coming now). The plot hangs on one enormous (and improbable) coincidence, which is that two characters die violently not only on the same day but at more or less the same time, and Tim Robbins' character appears to be guilty of a crime that he didn't actually commit. This all hangs on some blood being found in his car, and identified as being of the same blood group as Sean Penn's characters murdered daughter. Today, of course, this wouldn't be an issue. DNA testing would immediately identify the blood as coming from a different person, and the rest of the plot wouldn't work. So I suppose we have to say the film is set in the past somewhere, although when is not precisely specified, and the film's timeless "it might be the present or a few years ago" quality seems somewhat weakened. To me it felt like a screenplay that had sat on the shelf a few years between being written and being shot. (There are lots of screenplays like that). Although, given that it is an adaptation, I suppose it depends on what the original novel did. The time between the novel being written and the film shot is longer I guess, so one possibility is that the novel had a timeless quality in it but by the time the film was shot, the choice was either making it a period piece, blurring the dates still more, or changing the plot.

I suppose I should check.

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