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Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Problem With Mystic River

After some contemplation, and some discussions with my friend Charles in which we tried to put our finger on what went wrong with the film, I have finally figured out what went wrong in Mystic River. WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! (Well, they're spoilers in the sense that I have to talk about the ending of the movie, but it's not like you couldn't see it coming a mile away.)

So, here come the spoilers.

Here they come.

Any second now.

3.

2.

1.

Are you really sure you want to read this?

Because it's okay if you want to wait until after you see the movie.

Okay... you asked for it. Spoilers ahead!

"Rosebud" is his sled. Actually, "Rosebud" was William Randolph Hearst's nickname for Marion Davies's coochie, making Mankiewicz's use of the word a particularly harsh dig at old Hearst, but in the movie itself it was just a sled.

Darth Vader is Luke's father. Moreover, it turns out that Darth Vader is a stiff, unlikeable little twerp of a kid.

And in any film where a drug dealer is the bad guy, the good guy will win.

So. There we are.

Oh -- wait. I was going to talk about Mystic River.

The movie is a classic "idiot plot," which is Roger Ebert's term for a movie that would be over in ten minutes if everyone involved weren't an idiot. And the weirdest thing about Mystic River is that the characters even come right out and say the problem, right at the climax of the movie.

Jimmy (Sean Penn): So if you killed a child molester, why didn't you tell someone? People don't generally care about killing child molesters.

Stop film. The whole movie depends on the fact that Danny (Tim Robbins) has been acting suspicious since the night that Jimmy's daughter was murdered, and Danny has been lying to everyone about what he did. The only reason that the plot moves forward is that Danny continues to lie -- he tells his wife he was mugged, he denies that he did anything to others, and when he begins to realize that he is suspected of killing Jimmy's daughter, he doesn't say A WORD TO ANYONE. The problem is bad enough; it's worse that the author brought it to the audience's attention.

Roll film.

Danny (Tim Robbins): I don't know... I thought maybe I was becoming one of them. Vampires.

Stop film.

The only correct part of this answer is the first three words. It's clear that the author had to work backwards to think of a valid reason why Danny would not have told people what he did, so he concocted the part of the film that undeniably works the least -- the rambling nonsense about vampires and how Danny thinks he's becoming one of the bad guys because the molestation changed him. Vampires? Vampires?!?

There are so very many ways this could have been handled more interestingly. But they chose none of them. Instead, they took the plot of Clockers and remade it in Boston, to give all the performers a chance to do an accent.

So. Screenwriting 101. Don't make your characters do anything that is transparently stupid.

 1:50 PM

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