Mystic River (film)

Mystic River is a 2003 American mystery-drama film directed and scored by Clint Eastwood. It stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, and Laura Linney. The screenplay, written by Brian Helgeland, was based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. The film was produced by Robert Lorenz, Judie G. Hoyt, and Eastwood. It is the first film in which Eastwood was credited as composer of the score.

Mystic River
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byClint Eastwood
Produced by
Screenplay byBrian Helgeland
Based onMystic River
by Dennis Lehane
Music byClint Eastwood
CinematographyTom Stern
Edited byJoel Cox
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 15, 2003 (2003-10-15)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[2]
Box office$156.8 million[2]

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Penn, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Harden, and Best Supporting Actor for Robbins. Penn and Robbins won in their respective categories, making Mystic River the first film to win both awards since Ben-Hur in 1959.


Three boys, Jimmy Markum, Sean Devine, and Dave Boyle play hockey in a Boston street in 1975. Spotting wet concrete, they start writing their names into it when a car pulls up with two men, one pretending to be a police officer and the other a priest. One gets out and berates the boys for their actions, and tells Dave to get into the car. The men kidnap Dave and sexually abuse him for four days until he escapes.

Twenty-five years later, the boys are grown and, while they still live in Boston, have drifted apart. Jimmy is an ex-con running a neighborhood convenience store; Sean is a detective with the Massachusetts State Police; and Dave is a blue-collar worker continually haunted by the abduction and rape. Jimmy and Dave are still neighbors and related by marriage. Jimmy's 19-year-old daughter Katie is secretly dating Brendan Harris, a boy Jimmy despises. Brendan and she are planning to run away together to Las Vegas.

Katie goes out for the night with her girlfriends and Dave sees her at a local bar. That night, Katie is murdered, and Dave comes home with an injured hand and blood on his clothes, which his wife Celeste helps him clean up. Dave claims he fought off a mugger, "bashed his head on the parking lot", and possibly killed him. Sean investigates Katie's murder. His pregnant wife, Lauren, has recently left him.

Sean and his partner, Sergeant Whitey Powers, track down leads, while Jimmy conducts his own investigation using his neighborhood connections. Sean discovers that the gun used to kill Katie was also used in a liquor store robbery during the 1980s by "Just Ray" Harris, the father of Katie's boyfriend. Harris has been missing since 1989, but Brendan claims he still sends his family $500 every month. Brendan also feigns ignorance about Ray's gun, but Sean believes it was still in the house. Sergeant Powers suspects Dave as a possible perpetrator because he was one of the last people to see Katie alive. He also has a wounded hand, and although he continues to tell his wife he got it while being mugged, he tells the police a different story—soon Jimmy becomes suspicious of it. Dave continues to behave strangely, which upsets his wife to the point she is afraid he will hurt her. While Jimmy and his associates conduct their investigation, Dave's wife eventually tells Jimmy about Dave's behavior, the bloody clothing, and her suspicions.

Jimmy and his friends get Dave drunk at a local bar. When Dave leaves the bar, the men follow him out. Jimmy tells Dave that he shot "Just Ray" Harris at that same location for ratting him out and sending him to jail. Jimmy informs Dave that his wife thinks he murdered Katie and tells Dave he will let him live if he confesses. Dave then tells Jimmy that he did kill someone that night, but it was not Katie; he beat a child molester to death after finding him abusing a child prostitute in a car. Jimmy does not believe Dave's claim and threatens him with a knife. When Dave falsely admits to killing Katie, thinking he can escape with his life, Jimmy kills him and disposes of his body in the adjacent Mystic River.

While Dave is being killed, Brendan (having found out about his father's gun during questioning) confronts his younger brother Ray Jr. and his friend John O'Shea about Katie's murder. He beats the two boys and threatens to kill them if they do not admit their guilt, but when John takes the gun and is about to shoot him, Sean and Powers arrive just in time to stop it.

The next morning, Sean tells Jimmy that John and Silent Ray confessed to killing Katie. It was all part of a prank gone violently wrong. The kids got hold of Just Ray's gun and saw a car coming which happened to be Katie's. John aimed the gun just to scare her, but the gun went off by accident. The car veered onto the curb and Katie got out and ran into the park. Silent Ray and John pursued her so she would not tell anyone. The beating Katie received was from Silent Ray, who had a hockey stick. Once she was beaten, John shot her again, killing her. Sean asks Jimmy if he has seen Dave, because he is wanted for questioning in another case, the murder of a known child molester. A distraught Jimmy thanks Sean for finding his daughter's killers, but says, "if only you had been a little faster." Sean then asks Jimmy if he is going to "send Celeste Boyle $500 a month too?"

Sean reunites with his wife and his daughter Nora, after apologizing for "pushing her away". Jimmy goes to his wife, Annabeth, and confesses. She comforts him and tells him he is a king and kings always make the right decision. At a town parade, Sean sees Jimmy and mimics firing a gun with his hand, to let Jimmy know he is watching him.



Principal photography took place on location in Boston.[3] Eastwood stated that the three lead actors were his first choices for the roles.[3]



Mystic River was well received by critics, with the performances and direction receiving widespread acclaim. At the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 88% approval rating based on 204 reviews from critics, with an average rating of 7.77/10. The consensus reads, "Anchored by the exceptional acting of its strong cast, Mystic River is a somber drama that unfolds in layers and conveys the tragedy of its story with visceral power."[4] At the website Metacritic, which utilizes a normalized rating system, the film earned a rating of 84/100 ("universal acclaim") based on 42 reviews.[5] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote "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."[6] The Sun wrote that the film was "a haunting masterpiece and probably [Eastwood's] best film to date".

Box office

The film earned $156,822,020 worldwide with $90,135,191 in the United States and $66,686,829 in the international box office, which is significantly higher than the film's $30 million budget.[2]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards February 29, 2004 Best Picture Robert Lorenz, Judie G. Hoyt and Clint Eastwood Nominated [7]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Actor Sean Penn Won
Best Supporting Actor Tim Robbins Won
Best Supporting Actress Marcia Gay Harden Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Brian Helgeland Nominated
American Cinema Editors 2004 Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic Joel Cox Nominated [8]
Art Directors Guild February 2004 Feature Film – Contemporary Film Henry Bumstead and Jack G. Taylor Jr. Won [9]
BAFTA Film Awards February 15, 2004 Best Actor in a Leading Role Sean Penn Nominated [10]
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Tim Robbins Nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Laura Linney Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted Brian Helgeland Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics December 14, 2003 Best Film Won [11]
Best Ensemble Won
Cannes Film Festival May 14 – 25, 2003 Golden Coach Clint Eastwood Won [12]
Casting Society of America October 2004 Feature Film Won [13]
César Awards February 21, 2004 Best Foreign Film Won [14]
Critics' Choice Awards January 10, 2004 Best Picture Nominated [15][16]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Actor Sean Penn Won
Best Supporting Actress Marcia Gay Harden Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Tim Robbins Won
Best Ensemble Nominated
Best Screenplay Brian Helgeland Nominated
Best Score Clint Eastwood Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association January 2004 Best Actor Sean Penn Won [17]
European Film Awards 6 December 2003 Best Non-European Film Nominated [18]
Florida Film Critics Circle January 2, 2004 Best Actor Sean Penn Won [19]
Best Supporting Actor Tim Robbins Won
Golden Globes January 25, 2004 Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [20]
Best Director – Motion Picture Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Brian Helgeland Nominated
Best Actor in a Drama Sean Penn Won
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Tim Robbins Won
London Film Critics Circle February 11, 2004 Director of the Year Clint Eastwood Won [21]
Actor of the Year Sean Penn Won
National Board of Review December 3, 2003 Best Film Won [22]
Best Actor Sean Penn Won
National Society of Film Critics January 3, 2004 Best Film 2nd Place [23]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Won
Best Actor Sean Penn 2nd Place
Best Supporting Actor Tim Robbins 2nd Place
Best Screenplay Brian Helgeland 2nd Place
Satellite Awards January 23, 2004 Best Drama Film Nominated [24]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Actor – Drama Sean Penn Won
Best Supporting Actress – Drama Marcia Gay Harden Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Brian Helgeland Won
Best Cinematography Tom Stern Nominated
Best Editing Joel Cox Nominated
Best Sound Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman Nominated
Screen Actors Guild February 22, 2004 Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Male Actor Tim Robbins Won [25]
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor Sean Penn Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle February 2, 2004 Best Actor Sean Penn Won [26]
Writers Guild of America February 21, 2004 Best Adapted Screenplay Brian Helgeland Nominated [27]


  1. "MYSTIC RIVER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. September 10, 2003. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  2. "Mystic River". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  3. Hughes, p.153
  4. "Mystic River". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  5. "Mystic River (2003): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  6. Eliot (2009), p.307
  7. Hughes, p. 155
  8. Dimond, Anna (February 14, 2013). "ACE Eddie noms show revealing splits from Oscars". Variety. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  9. Mitchell, Courtney (February 2004). "Art directors honor 'River' and 'Rings'". Variety. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  10. "Film in 2004". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  11. "Boston honors Mystic River, Translation". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  12. "Clint Eastwood: 60 years in film". The Daily Telegraph. October 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  13. Kamin, Debra (October 2004). "Kudos for casting". Variety. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  14. "Barbarian plunders top Cesar prizes". Screen Daily. February 2004. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  15. Feiwell, Jill (December 2003). "'Mystic,' 'In America' top B'cast Crix list". Variety. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  16. "US critics give Rings four awards". BBC News. 11 January 2004. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  17. "Charlize Theron honored by Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics for Monster". The Advocate. January 2004. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  18. Meza, Ed (December 7, 2003). "'Lenin' storms the house at Berlin's EFAs". Variety. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  19. "2003 FFCC Award Winners". Florida Film Critics Circle. January 2004. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  20. "Mystic River". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  21. "Master And Commander sails off with London Critics awards". Screen Daily. February 2004. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  22. "National Board of Review Says "Mystic River" is Tops For 2003". IndieWire. December 2003. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  23. "Critics society names `Splendor' best film". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  24. "2004 (8th Annual Satellite Awards)". International Press Academy. Archived from the original on December 18, 2008. Retrieved October 28, 2015.
  25. "SAG Swept Away by "Mystic River"". E! Online. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  26. "4th Annual Award Winners". Vancouver Film Critics Circle. 2 February 2004. Archived from the original on 13 September 2016. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  27. "SAG, WGA awards lead into Oscar". CNN. February 20, 2004. Retrieved June 20, 2019.


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