Mystic River

Three estranged former childhood friends in working-class Massachusetts find themselves drawn back together by a murder: Jimmy (Sean Penn) is the father of a 19-year-old girl found brutally slain one night; Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the cop investigating the case; Dave (Tim Robbins) is the haunted loser who might have committed the crime.

While the story busies itself rather too much in determining Dave's guilt, at least it's smart to establish the reason behind his emotional issues - he was kidnapped and sexually molested as a child - at the very beginning, instead of saving it as a big "twist". (Cripes, "gritty dramas" these days would have you think that 90% of American children are victims of sexual abuse.) And though Bacon's investigation is somewhat involving, at the heart of the film is Penn, whose vengeful thug of a father is another in a long line of great performances.

The final five minutes of the film feel disjointed, as if something important got cut out of the script along the way. There's also a weirdly misogynistic element to it that doesn't jibe with the rest of the movie. But maybe it's just me.

Serviceable direction from Eastwood (who also composed the film's lone bit of music, a short motif repeated a dozen times) allows for performances that are infinitely better than the film's routine whodunnit storyline. These performances are, in fact, the only reason to see Mystic River.