Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Brian Helgeland, based on the novel By Dennis Lehane
Sean, Jimmy, and Dave grew up together in an Irish working class neighborhood in Boston, roaming the neighborhood and playing ball in the street. Their friendship was shattered when Dave became the victim of a horrific crime. He returned home, but the bond among the boys dissolved under the weight of their unspoken fear, guilt, and shame.
As adults, they’re on divergent paths. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is a police detective, still wholly committed to his estranged wife. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-convict and family man; he went straight when his beloved oldest daughter Katie was born. Although Dave (Tim Robbins) shares close bonds with his wife and son, his childhood wounds bled him dry — he appears to be absent from his own skin.
Their lives intersect again when Katie — now 19 years old — is murdered, and Sean investigates the crime. The morning after her death, Dave returns home, dazed, with blood on his hands. He tells his frantic wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden), that he doesn’t remember exactly what happened the night before. In the wake of Jimmy’s excruciating loss, Dave offers comfort to him, his wife Annabeth (Laura Linney), and their family. But as the investigation moves forward, and secrets begin to unravel, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore Dave as a suspect.
This dark, emotional, character-driven mystery is told with restraint — there is no action or intrigue that is unnecessary to the story. It relies on solid storytelling, consistently outstanding performances, and a complex study of grief, revenge, and festering guilt and shame. This film is full of raw emotions, including Jimmy’s unfettered anguish, Dave’s mangled spirit, and Celeste’s growing terror as Dave further disintegrates.
Much of the this story lies beneath the surface. Thanks to skillful writing and brilliant performances across the board, much of these characters’ stories remains unspoken, revealed in well-placed hints and facial expressions. What appears on the surface to be merely a gritty mystery is intelligent and multilayered.
Fair warning: this is a bleak film…
Spoiler: Although old sins, traumas, and regrets are brought to the surface, there is no healing or redemption here. The end of this movie is a deceptively innocuous scene at a neighborhood parade. The lives of Katie and her boyfriend have been annihilated. Dave was murdered for a crime he didn’t commit. His wife Celeste is frantically searching the crowd and looking to Jimmy and Annabeth for answers. As she wavers between confusion and dawning realization, it’s painful to watch.
Annabeth, in true Lady MacBeth fashion, has convinced Jimmy he did no wrong in his tragic foray into vigilante justice. They have both repressed their pain and rage and appear almost smug. In a restrained, understated way, it is a truly horrifying ending, but it seems honest, somehow. In life, grieving and seeking answers don’t always bring the resolution we long for, and there isn’t always a path to healing.