At the risk of raising the ire of thousands of Lord of the Rings fans hoping Peter Jackson's final chapter in the trilogy will claim Oscar gold, or the fury of horse fans hoping that Seabiscuit will enter the winner's circle, let me be perfectly clear: Mystic River is the best movie of 2003, Sean Penn is the top choice for Best Actor and our ol' pal Dirty Harry…yes, Mr. Clint Eastwood himself... is about to win his second Oscar for Best Director.
Mystic River opens in the past, as three young boys – Jimmy, Sean and Dave – who, like most young boys their ages, are looking to get into a little trouble on an overcast afternoon in Boston. Jimmy gets the idea of stealing a car, but the boys are soon distracted by some fresh cement drying on the sidewalk and decide to write their names in it. Sure enough, a pair of men claiming to be the police start yelling at the boys and make Dave get in their car, saying they're taking him back home to tell his mother what he has done. But the two guys aren't cops…and they kidnap Dave and sexually abuse him for four days, before Dave is finally able to make his escape.
The three men suddenly find their lives thrown back together when Jimmy's oldest daughter disappears one night. Sean is called in on the case and is the one who discovers the body of Jimmy's girl. The mystery thickens, because Dave was one of the last people to see Jimmy's daughter alive, and he came home that night injured, with blood all over his hands.
Penn plays his father figure role with such genuine compassion and grief that the audience is stunned to find out he has a darker side when it's revealed early in the film. Robbins is so good at playing a haunted man, that we never quite know until the end whether his character is guilty, emotionally scarred, or both. Even Bacon is superb – a man who handles his police work almost flawlessly, but has a personal life that is in shambles.
About 20 minutes into Mystic River, I realized I was watching much more than the best movie I've seen this year…I was watching a classic. This is a film that not only stays with you long after you leave the theater, but should be staying with us for a long time as one of the best films of the new century.
Oscars or no Oscars, Mystic River sweeps you up in its powerful current and carries you into a story you'll never forget.