Three boys are at play in a poor Irish neighborhood in Boston. A pair of strangers, claiming to be cops, force one of the boys into a car and drive off. The victim eventually escapes and returns home in a dazed state, haunted by memories of brutal rape. Decades later, the three former friends are reunited by a gruesome murder.

CAST: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapman, Thomas Guiry, Emmy Rossum, Spencer Treat Clark, Andrew Mackin, Adam Nelson, Robert Wahlberg, Jenny O’Hara

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

"Clint Eastwood has directed good movies in the past (‘Unforgiven,’ ‘A Perfect World’), but he has never directed anything that haunts one’s dreams the way ‘Mystic River’ does…The movie has the bitter clarity and the heady exhilaration of new perceptions achieved after a long struggle, and one enjoys it not only for itself—it’s fascinating from first shot to last—but as a breakthrough for Eastwood, who, at the age of seventy-three, may be just hitting his peak as a director…At times, Penn plays him [Jimmy] as the kind of cursing, unreachable guy you might see in a bar, and then, a few minutes later, he takes off into poetic soliloquies, and he’s up there with Marlon Brando as a great tormented screen actor…This movie is a historic achievement: Clint Eastwood, an icon of violence, has made us loathe violence as an obscenity. ‘Mystic River’ hurts the way sad stories always hurt, but the craft and love with which it has been made transfigure pain into a moviegoer’s rapture." --David Denby, The New Yorker

"At its starkest, the film is a parable of incurable trauma, in which violence begets more violence and the primal violation of innocence can never be set right. ‘Mystic River’ is the rare American movie that aspires to — and achieves — the full weight and darkness of tragedy…What gives the movie its extraordinary intensity of feeling is the way Mr. Eastwood grounds the conventions of pulp opera in an unvarnished, thickly inhabited reality. There are scenes that swell with almost unbearable feeling, and the director's ambitions are enormous, but the movie almost entirely avoids melodrama or grandiosity…Mr. Penn, his eyes darting as if in anticipation of another blow, his shoulders tensed to return it, is almost beyond praise. Jimmy Markum is not only one of the best performances of the year, but also one of the definitive pieces of screen acting in the last half-century." --A.O. Scott, The New York Times

"… a haunted thriller of disturbing power…Violence and revenge have been a staple of Eastwood’s work from the beginning, but here he explores his subject from a new, more ambiguous angle, with no regard for macho titillation…Eastwood has made his most intense, pain-filled movie, steeped in Roman Catholic guilt and sexual shame. It’s also his most humane in its respect for the complex humanity of its characters. It’s not the melodramatic twists and turns of the plot that fascinate Eastwood at this point in his career: it’s the twists and turns of the heart… Penn’s bold, anguished performance is extraordinary, almost operatic in scale…Robbins gets deep inside Dave’s fractured, unrepairable psyche, while deftly avoiding making him merely a figure of pity… Under the cover of an urban whodunit, Eastwood has made an authentic American tragedy." --David Ansen, Newsweek

"This is at bottom a pulp thriller that strains -- sometimes pretentiously, at other times with gutter magnificence -- to reach the level of basic human truths…the film and its actors are at their best when acknowledging the tragedy of inarticulate men banging their heads against fate. Penn delivers a mesmerizing, if initially mannered, performance as a noble man reclaimed by evil…The film's final half is a grueling, occasionally forced journey toward inevitable spasms of violence--and Eastwood hasn't helped himself with the tinny musical score he has composed." --Ty Burr, The Boston Globe

"The police-procedural aspects are well done, but the characters, notably Jimmy’s, are what give the movie its dark force. Sean Penn is so frighteningly good in this movie that he outdoes even the best of his earlier work…Not everything in this film works. A subplot involving Sean [Kevin Bacon] and his wife, who keeps phoning him but is afraid to speak, is trite. Scenes involving local thugs doing Jimmy’s dirty work are overwrought and seem to be out of a grade-B Western. Eastwood has a tendency to be too literal-minded, and more than once in scenes with Dave, he inserts flashbacks that undercut Robbins’s performance …Perhaps he also makes too big a deal out of the fatalism of the story, with its quasi-biblical suggestion that the stain of sin is passed along the generations and that one must pay up for the past. The characters in the movie may feel this way, but does Eastwood really have to join the chorus?" --Peter Rainer, New York Magazine

"It’s hard to think of a recent Hollywood movie that expresses human pain with the raw honesty of ‘Mystic River,’ a haunting, ambitious but ultimately flawed film that treads some of the same somber moral territory director Clint Eastwood explored in ‘Unforgiven.’ That it does so to such devastating effect is thanks in large part to a tour de force performance by Sean Penn…Sometimes ‘Mystic’ feels as if three different genre films have been grafted together: a detective story about a pair of cops trying to solve a brutal murder; an ensemble drama about three men dealing with the horrifying legacy of rape; and a double tragedy of revenge…What the film's weaknesses come down to is a wildly uneven script adaptation…In among intelligent, sometimes darkly funny scenes are lines of dialogue so heavy-handed they almost jerk you out of the movie's mood. And though there are some deft surprises, there are moments when the cycle of violence and revenge is simply too pat. It doesn't help that the score, co-composed by Eastwood, is sometimes overblown and intrusive." --Jonathan Foreman, The New York Post

"A dark and lurid exploration of violence, retribution and the inhuman cruelties committed under the masquerade of friendship, it is so complex it defies linear explanation. That should not deter anyone keen on movies with big plots, myriad characters and a reverence for old-fashioned-narrative storytelling values. But bring your powers of concentration. ‘Mystic River’ is a long movie that could, in my opinion, use a pair of scissors. But it benefits hugely from Mr. Eastwood’s fondness for actors… A solid whodunit, with disturbing, provocative, take-home insights into human nature." --Rex Reed, The New York Observer

"There's a lot of Acting going on in this picture: We get a bit too much of Penn's terrible grief, Harden's silent anguish, Robbins' suspicious fumbling and mumbling. What you end up admiring about the film is its literacy, its authenticity (rarely does a commercial picture read an American city as correctly as this one reads Boston) and its refusal to let us down easily. As bestseller adaptations go, ‘Mystic River’ goes a good way toward redeeming the blunder that was Eastwood's ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.’" -- Jan Stuart, Newsday

"…a solid crime thriller…The white-knuckle center of the movie is Sean Penn, who gives an utterly raw performance as Jimmy, father of the dead girl. It's one of the few times that a parent's grief has felt real on the screen through all its ugly permutations. Penn notoriously hates acting, but he is among the very best -- and not just of his generation…Motive, of course, is central to all detective stories. ‘Mystic River’ is the rare example that takes a larger, sociological perspective. While most eyes are on the pebble thrown in the water, Eastwood is after the ripple effect." --Jami Bernard, The New York Daily News

"Although elements in ‘Mystic River’ play according to the form of a police procedural, the movie is about more than the simple question of guilt. It is about pain spiraling down through the decades, about unspoken secrets and unvoiced suspicions. And it is very much about the private loyalties of husbands and wives…To see strong acting like this is exhilarating. In a time of flashy directors who slice and dice their films in a dizzy editing rhythm, it is important to remember that films can look and listen and attentively sympathize with their characters. Directors grow great by subtracting, not adding, and Eastwood does nothing for show, everything for effect." --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"As befits a procedural, ‘Mystic River’ has a deliberate, methodical pace; exposition is frequent, milieu is duly noted, and the past is always present…Scary and volatile, Penn, who shoulders the burden of ‘acting’ (or is it reacting?), isn't this time entirely eclipsed by his hair. His trademark intensity, however, plays oddly against the rest of the cast's cautious withholding. There's no particular buildup to Jimmy's fury. It's inevitable he'll take the law into his own hands…Robbins, by contrast, is a more quietly terrifying creature…Pallid, sour, and haunted, he gives a powerfully physical performance… Bacon has the closest to an Eastwood role, albeit one largely devoid of interest, with Laurence Fishburne as his even more nominal partner… As in ‘Unforgiven,’ Eastwood contrives to foreground the question of violence and make it specific as well as inevitable. Darker in its way than even ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘Mystic River’ actually ends with a festive patriotic parade casting a horrifying shadow of criminality on the entire procedure." --J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

"Clint Eastwood pours everything he knows about directing into ‘Mystic River.’ His film sneaks up, messes with your head and then floors you. You can't shake it. It's that haunting, that hypnotic…there's nothing ordinary about the way Eastwood merges all the elements into a movie of startling power and intimacy…The sheer brilliance of Penn's performance anchors the film… this may be Penn's most potent two hours onscreen. Do you want to see screen acting at its riskiest and most riveting? Watch Penn…‘Mystic River’ is a dark masterpiece that can stand with ‘Unforgiven.’ It takes a piece out of you." --Peter Travers, Rolling Stone