Although most people think of Clint Eastwood as an iconic film actor, his strongest talents actually lie behind the camera as a director. Taking the director’s chair for the first time more than thirty years ago, Eastwood has directed the majority of films he starred in, culminating in Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for his brilliant western UNFORGIVEN. Over the last three decades, Eastwood has also served as director on a few standout films in which he did not appear- 2003’s MYSTIC RIVER falls into that latter category. MYSTIC RIVER is a darkly tragic film based upon Dennis Lehane crime novel that benefits greatly from Eastwood’s familiarity with the genre, not to mention, Oscar winning performances from Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.
MYSTIC RIVER introduces the audience to three boyhood friends named Jimmy, Sean and Dave, whose friendship are forever changed by a horrifying incident that leaves one of them emotionally scarred for life. MYSTIC RIVER then moves forward roughly twenty-five years, where a new tragedy draws the three together once again. Sean Penn portrays the adult Jimmy Markum, an ex-con whose eldest daughter is found murdered in a local park. Kevin Bacon is the adult Sean Devine, now a State Police Detective, who finds himself searching for the murderer of his old friend’s daughter. Finally, we have Tim Robbins as the adult Dave Boyle, who returns home on the very evening of Jimmy’s daughter’s murder, covered in blood and claiming to have had a violent encounter with a mugger. To say anymore about the plot would detract from the mystery as it unfolds. The fine supporting cast of MYSTIC RIVER includes Marcia Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney, Thomas Guiry, Emmy Rossum, Spencer Treat Clark, Jenny O'Haraand an uncredited turn by Eli Wallach.
Warner Home Video has made MYSTIC RIVER available on DVD in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a great looking transfer of a somewhat stylized motion picture. There is stark and gritty quality to the film’s cinematography, which doesn’t try to paint a pretty face on the ugly events of the story, or the ugly world in which these characters inhabit. Image sharpness and detail are generally excellent, as the picture delivers a readily dimensional quality. Colors are mood dependent, but are usually rendered between a natural level of saturation and slightly muted. Occasionally, one will see a strongly saturated hue, but like the rest of the film’s palette, they are reproduced with complete stability. Blacks are deep and inky, while the whites are pure. Contrast can be a bit harsh, which adds to the starkness of the film’s intended look. The film elements appear very clean, although there is an intentionally noticeable graininess to the picture. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern.
Subtly mixed, MYSTIC RIVER features a good sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Instead of utilizing a big, loud and aggressively mixed soundtrack, which would have been out of place in MYSTIC RIVER, the weight of the film’s drama is carried in the dialogue and performances. With minor effects and ambient sounds, the track produces a good sense of acoustic space that keeps everything within natural sounding environments. MYSTIC RIVER features a moody musical score by Clint Eastwood, which adds a haunting quality to this subdued sound mix. Channel separations are nicely deployed across the forward soundstage, while the rears are generally subdued, but occasionally effective. Voices sound warm and completely realistic, plus the film’s dialogue is always understandable. The bass channel is solid enough for the material, but never calls attention to itself. A French 5.1 channel track has also encoded onto the DVD, as have English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across two discs of this three-disc set. The third disc is a CD soundtrack featuring Eastwood’s compositions for the film. Getting back to the main supplements, disc one features an audio commentary with actors Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. While a little slow, there are a few interesting moments which make the commentary worth a listen.
Moving on to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. Running twenty three minutes is Mystic River: Beneath The Surface, an entertaining look at the production, that includes interviews with director Clint Eastwood, actors Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, plus novelist Dennis Lehane and screenwriter Brian Helgeland. Mystic River: From Page To Screen clocks in at eleven minutes and features many of the same interviewees, who discuss the adaptation of the book to the screen. Up next are a section of interviews from The Charlie Rose Show featuring Clint Eastwood (forty minutes approximately), Tim Robbins (fifty minutes approximately) and Kevin Bacon (twenty minutes approximately). A theatrical trailer and theatrical teaser close out disc two.
MYSTIC RIVER is another powerful and compelling work from director Clint Eastwood that features Academy Award winning performances from Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. Warner has done well by the film, offering a great presentation and thoughtful supplements. If you are an Eastwood, Penn or Robbins fan, you’ll definitely want to add MYSTIC RIVER to your collection.
Note: MYSTIC RIVER is available in the Three-Disc Deluxe Edition for $27.98 and a movie only edition for $27.95.
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