Saturday, February 07, 2004

Clint Eastwood strikes again -- and he hits like a girl

Richard and I had made plans to get caught up in Oscar fever tonight and see a nominated movie together. As you're probably (painfully) aware, I was stuck at work for another 11-hour day, and Richard -- bless his heart -- patiently waited until 8:00 to meet me for dinner and a late showing of Mystic River.

And I can't remember hating a movie this much since True Crime, which was also directed by Clint Eastwood -- who is lucky to be working, judging by his manifest lack of talent.

While I don't think the movie deserves even this little nod of respect, I begrudgingly warn you that the following rant will contain MANY SPOILERS:

Let's see ... where to start?

The direction and cinematography. They are so ham-handed they'd garner any film student a failing grade and the enduring ridicule of sentient filmgoers around the world. The child actors all sound like they're reading their lines, especially in that painful scene where they tell their equally inexpressive dads that their friend has just been abducted. The cuts -- especially in and out of Tim Robbins' flashbacks -- are so cliche-ridden they made me want to slap the camera out of Clint Eastwood's arrogant hands. And what's with that pointless shot scooting along the water at the end? Was it tacked on to make the movie's title somehow relevant?

Speaking of cliches ... Mystic River is rotten with them: Pedophile rape as the unspeakable crime driving the plot. The true killers hiding in plain sight, flitting innocently in and out of the movie until they're revealed at the last minute. Ex-cons discussing their time "in the big house." The misguided sense of duty and family that unites blue-collar Catholic career criminals with Brooklyn accents.

The character development. Laura Linney goes from destroyed stepmother of a murdered teen to hungry-twatted Lady Macbeth rather suddenly. Kevin Bacon goes from good cop to winking, finger-gun-shooting family man once he uncovers a murder he apparently has no intention of prosecuting. Tim Robbins just mutters about vampires and looks like he can't remember where he left his dignity most of the time.

The dialogue. It was either poorly written or poorly ad-libbed or both -- but it definitely insults the intelligence of every reasonably sober third-grader in the audience. How many times does Sean Penn have to yell "That's my daughter!" when they find the body? I lost count when he reached the triple digits. How many times does he have to say "Admit what you did!" before he offs his old buddy? A good actor would need to say it maybe two or three times. And a good director would edit out any more than that to save them both a lot of embarrassment.

The absolute randomness of plot points that are all over the importance continuum. Tim Robbins' deathbed confession that the bloody secret he'd been keeping was that he randomly stumbled on a child molester randomly getting head from some random boy in some random car in a parking lot and beat him to death. One of the early child abductors takes great pains to show his future victim -- and the camera -- that he's wearing a ring with a cross on it. Why? And what's with Kevin Bacon's missing wife who calls him but doesn't say anything and then when she finally speaks up Kevin smiles and accepts her back with no questions asked and no plot relevance explained?

There are a few things I liked about the movie, though: The trashy dresses and wigs worn by Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden are fabulous. The boys' enduring signatures in the sidewalk -- especially the unfinished work of Tim Robbins' character, who remains unfinished in life -- are a nice touch. Tim Robbins' table-turning during his police interrogation is sharply written. And the guy playing Sean Penn's assistant at the store is hot. Sean himself looks pretty good -- especially with all his tattoos and muscles peeking out of his T-shirts.

But hot men and Tammy Wynette wigs do not make a good movie. And neither, apparently, does Clint Eastwood.

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