I’ve been meaning to post something about Mystic River, which I finally caught about a week ago. You may have read Terry’s comments, which centered on the problematic score. Speaking strictly as a layman in all matters musical, I can still loudly echo Terry’s feelings about that damned score. It was a scourge. It was a menace. It chewed up and spat out whole scenes.
Apart from the music, I found Mystic River most impressive as a portrait of the insular South Boston neighborhood where it is set, but not entirely satisfying as drama–until its surprising last two scenes. Sean Penn’s lavishly praised performance as Jimmy struck me as way overbearing; the madder his character gets, the more screen acreage he seems to take up, and the flatter the story becomes. Its panoramic view of a troubled community over two generations telescopes into a narrower and narrower study of a single character with a single, hypertrophied dimension.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie did keep me engrossed. But by the time the brutal climax had detonated, I was weary, glad to have it done with, and ready to go home. But it was then that Mystic River unfurled two unforeseeable concluding scenes that changed–not everything, but a great deal. Jimmy’s wife (Laura Linney) saunters into the first of these scenes, a serene and satisfied Lady Macbeth, and steals the movie in about five minutes.
Finally dropping her guard, Linney’s character delivers a quietly chilling monologue that yanks Jimmy’s personal trials back into the context of the neighborhood and its remorseless tribal ethos. Her speech changes some of what we think we know, not about the murder mystery but about the force field in which the murder has been committed and revenged. A previous scene with her father, for instance, takes on new significance; we’re forced to reevaluate a couple of minor characters as more than goofball sidekicks; and Jimmy’s blazing anger (if not Penn’s performance) clicks into place, newly plausible and sympathetic. The scene recasts things in a way that makes the movie, for my money, all of a sudden ten times more interesting.
The last scene continues to track Jimmy’s wife. By now the camera can barely take its eye off her. Her silent confrontation with the other major female character (Marcia Gay Harden) is another haunting moment that beats anything in the first 90% of the film for sheer suggestiveness. After all the fixation on male angst, male bonding and male rivalry, the women emerge from the background and make the movie whole. It’s not so much that earlier scenes don’t deliver any feeling, but that these last scenes don’t deliver it in blunt blows. More like electric pinpricks.
I’m of two minds about this turn so late in the story. I thought at first that it seemed tacked on and unprepared for; but Laura Linney’s character is conspicuously unreadable in earlier scenes, and the revelation of her character and loyalties enriches the drama to a degree that probably wouldn’t be matched if it weren’t sprung as a late semi-surprise. But it may be too easily missed in the shadow of all the fireworks leading up to it, since it is so much subtler than any of the movie’s other revelations and arrives so late. These last scenes are so subtle, in fact, that even now I worry I’m reading too much into them. But I don’t think so–or at the very least I don’t want to think so, since they transformed the movie, for me, into something not just well made but haunting and memorable.