From the television ads, Mystic River looked like your typical middlebrow Oscar movie, on a generic B movie subject but told in hushed tones with A list actors, which apparently covers up the generica (see In the Bedroom). I had just seen Sleepers the week before, another star studded, contrived, overrated, awards conscious drama about child molestation and revenge. As Roger Ebert pointed out in that case, and it applies here too, apparently homosexual rape is worse than death and the only proper response is death. There’s less of that in Mystic River, but it always bubbles under the surface, and it’s certainly not the worst cinematic crime the movie commits.
There are points undeveloped all over the place here, actors underutilized (Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden), hamfisted symbolism of lost youth, an excess of explanation at the conclusion which causes the movie to go from languid to sprinting, which makes you realize how unneeded the endless police procedural stuff is, and how the movie could use its 138 minutes in a more constructive fashion. Eastwood has been doing this for the last 10 years, ever since being granted unchecked reverence because of Unforgiven, spitting out forgettable crime movies novel adaptations like Blood Work, True Crime, Absolute Power, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the senior citizen Armageddon/Right Stuff riff, Space Cowboys, but despite how uninteresting these movies are and how they keep failing financially, he continues on. Perhaps this has audiences allowing for problems and holes in the stories because they remember how he apologized for kicking ass in Spaghetti Westerns and Dirty Harry movies in Unforgiven, so he must be a wise man now.
Mystic River sets up a ridiculous red herring early on, and chickens out because it wants to lay on the irony, which opens itself up to all problems of contrivance*. Laura Linney, completely underutilized up to that point, delivers an amazing monologue in the final moments that could spin the movie in another, more interesting, direction, but it’s left to just simmer inconclusively. If she felt the way she says she does the entire time, it would change how the movie plays, and perhaps should have been established earlier, or at least hinted at so the ideas about control and retribution would be more effective.
So Robbins just happens to find a child molester at the exact same time that Katie is murdered. We don’t get any establishing of the area he’s talking about where there are child prostitutes everywhere, he just mumbles about it during that inane vampire monologue. When we finally understand that the mute brother and his friend did it, and it was random, not something like, he didn’t want his brother to run off to Vegas leaving him with his cranky and cartoonish mother, it feel rather empty, like we just sat through all that for nothing.