EASTWOOD DOES ALTMAN or NOT MYSTIC PIZZA

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A noble effort, but for me it fell flat at some point.  I wanted to like it.  I really did.  Sean Penn's character 'triumphing' in the end is what did it for me, if I had to pick one thing, even though I can appreciate the film's mostly uncompromising tone.  Like Robin Williams said, "Life is shit.  Get used to it."

There is a great amount of accredited talent at work here on both sides of the camera, as you might have noticed.  Eastwood goes without saying.  Screenwriter Brian Helgeland has freed himself of the Gibson shackles and has found a new home in Eastwood's camp.  The cinematography (NOT Jack Green!) was at times lit a little too much like a home movie, but there were some good silhouettes amongst other things.  And a first-rate actors' ensemble.  Dare I call a nomination for Tim RobbinsKevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne make a great FBI team together.  Laura Linney plays the wife as she did in 'The Truman Show' but we find her loyalties are not as complex here.  Also, there's life after 'Gladiator' and 'Unbreakable' for bright-eyed, three-named prodigy Spencer Treat Clark.  Also, the audience appreciated the cameo by Eli Wallach.  Oh yeah, and Marcia Gay Harden.  Oh, does she really need another Oscar already?

The film is more about atmosphere than plot, but the plot involves three kids who are friends in urban '60s Boston.  One of them is kidnapped and abused, held hostage for four days in a basement, but fortunately escapes and lives to tell the tale.  Unfortunately he is scarred for life.  A fresh tragedy brings them all back together 30 odd years later, and we find the wounds of the past have not yet healed.  Sounds a little like 'Sleepers', huh?  'Sleepers' but without the sweet, sweet revenge.  No, don't start playing the 6 Degrees of Bacon game!  Please, God, no!!!  

Helgeland earns his paycheck in two places: Tim Robbins' diatribe about vampires and werewolves. (yes, we know you started off in horror)  And of course with Laura Linney's out-of-left-field speech to Sean Penn at the end, the likes of which I haven't seen since 'Changing Lanes'.  Talk about foreplay!  Makes me wish I read more Shakespeare.

As I said earlier Tim Robbins is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination, not that I'm a Hollywood insider or anything.  He's the Gollum of the movie.  Sorry, it's this damn Lord of the Rings again.  A gentle soul upon which a mystery movie often fulcrums, but he's not so gentle when forced into a corner, and he gets plenty of that here, to say the least.

Some have compared Kevin Bacon to Eastwood's alter-ego, as in the Dirty Harry movies, which didn't occur to me as I was watching, probably because he had no catch phrases like "Go ahead... make my day" or "A man's got to know his limitations."  Not as visibly noticeable as Edward Norton in 'Everyone says I Love You' or Kenneth Branagh in 'Celebrity', anyway.  Also, I'm no policeman by any means, but it seems to me that Bacon's character being so close to the people in the case should have disqualified him from working on it at all.  Not to mention the fact that I would have liked to seen Sean Penn's character dragged into the interrogation room after telling Bacon "I wish you found them a little sooner."  Penn's character is no Teflon don, better stick with the day job.  (D.G.U.Y.D.J.?)

If I know my trivia correctly this is Eastwood's third directorial effort without himself in the cast.  'Bird' is still his finest of the three.  Four if you count 'Breezy' (1973), so I don't know my trivia.  I would suggest he not go into John Carpenter territory and compose the music as well, but he did pretty good here.  Shades of 'Fargo' at times, but maybe it's just me.

Motifs: shots of the river as chapter headings.  Yea, there are rough and tumble dealings on those mean streets, but night (filter) or day it always brings us back to the river.  I mean, it just keeps rolling and rolling along...

Rated R for language and violence, especially some particularly gritty violence involving children.  Children beating up other children, for example.  Teenagers, technically.  Look, it's just a movie, okay?!

***

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

(c)2004 Bulk Entertainment

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