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Mystic River (2003)

Sean Penn, Marcia Gay Harden, ... | PENN AND TAYLOR
Image credit: Mystic River: Merie W. Wallace
PENN AND TAYLOR

Details Release Date: Oct 15, 2003; Limited Release: Oct 08, 2003; Rated: R; Length: 137 Minutes; Genres: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; With: Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney and Sean Penn...; Distributor: Warner Bros.; More

Some actors will go to any length to work with Clint Eastwood. In 2000, Kevin Bacon was attending France’s Deauville Film Festival to promote ''Hollow Man'' when he heard that Dirty Harry was also in town. On the night of ''Hollow Man’''s premiere, Bacon walked into the theater, then immediately snuck out the back door and tracked down the ''Unforgiven'' Oscar winner at a restaurant 45 minutes away just to shake his hand and make an impression. He then raced back to the screening. “I made it just as the lights came up,” recalls Bacon. “It was a wild night.”

But it paid off. After finishing last year’s ''Blood Work,'' Eastwood turned his attention to adapting Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel ''Mystic River'' and tapped Bacon to join the troika of actors who play the film’s deeply damaged male leads. Set in the roughneck neighborhoods around Boston, ''River'' tells the story of three kids who are forever marked when one, Dave (Tim Robbins), is abducted and molested. Flash forward 25 years: The daughter of ex-con Jimmy (Sean Penn) is found murdered. His old pal Sean (Bacon), now a police detective, is assigned to investigate the case. The trail leads to Dave, who on the night of the murder came home to his wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden), covered in blood. “The script was so scary and so poignant,” says Harden. “The innocence of childhood, the innocence of community. It works as metaphor on a large scale, and it works as a story about a specific reality.”

Eastwood, 73, shot the drama last fall in Boston with his typical no-frills, no-fuss economy. (“He makes you realize when you work with him how much bulls--- there is on most movie sets,” says Bacon. “There was zero bulls---.”) But adapting the novel was not without struggle. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland -- an Oscar winner for 1997’s ''L.A. Confidential'' -- was daunted by Lehane’s psychologically dense narrative and sheer number of characters. (He solved the latter problem by short-shrifting two key female characters, but Eastwood asked him to beef them back up.) Even more difficult was getting the $25 million budget he wanted for the dark drama. “I won’t name names,” says Helgeland, “but one studio said they weren’t interested in dramas anymore. That was echoed down the line.” (Eastwood and Warner Bros. found a believer and cofinancer in the Warner-based production company Village Roadshow.) Yet Helgeland believes the challenges made for a more inspired director: “It made him give it something extra. When no one loves it, you have to love it a little harder.”

The Killer Moment A ''chilling ambiguous'' scene, says Bacon, in which he points his finger at Penn as if it were a gun. Further elaboration would spoil everything.

Originally posted Aug 11, 2003 Published in issue #724-725 Aug 22, 2003 Order article reprints