- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
An icon of gunslinger revenge epics himself, Clint Eastwood returns to the screen this week with a drama that explores the darker side of vigilante justice. Winning raves and early Oscar-buzz from critics,
A troublemaker as a child, Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) has grown up into a bitter, dangerous man who is accustomed to settling scores with violence below the radar of the Boston police. Thus, when someone close to him is killed, he sets out to find the killer and bring about justice on his own. While we see him, his picture-perfect wife (Laura Linney), and his beautiful daughters dressed in their Sunday best at the local church, we know that Markum's subversive plans are being carried out behind the scenes.
Sean (Kevin Bacon), Markum's childhood friend, has become a cop, and now he must return to "the neighborhood" to investigate the crime and revisit his old friends, old haunts. He and his contrarian partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne) trudge along the trail of clues, trying to get to the truth before Jimmy does.
Meanwhile, Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins), who suffered a traumatizing period of sexual abuse as a child, stumbles through his days with weighty emotional baggage, a tendency towards alcohol, and a feeble grip on his marriage. The murder of his friend Jimmy's loved one, 30 years later, only intensifies the pain of his old wounds, especially when suspicion falls on him. When Dave's wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) comes to believe he is guilty, it comes as a shattering blow to his psyche.
Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) calls the movie "suspenseful and sobering. Eastwood seems to have come full circle, from once having … glamorized violence to directing more mature films such as
J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) calls it a "sophisticated portrait of a Boston neighborhood … supported with some sparkling performances and a compelling tale. If you're in the mood for a mature film, you won't go wrong here." And yet he struggles with the film's split-personality as a murder mystery and a psychological drama: "The desire to keep the audience guessing ends up undermining the narrative itself."
The neighborhood church is a backdrop for a central scene, opening up possibilities for spiritual exploration within the story. Alas, Eastwood can't find more to say than "evil begets evil," and he can't seem to do more than sigh heavily over his drowning characters. In the world of this story, the men are downcast, the women fractured, the truth is lost, and redemption, joy, and humor are nowhere to be found. In spite of its melodrama,
Michael Leary (The Matthews House Project) says the movie is loaded with "all the stuff of great contemporary American film. But unfortunately, even though it all is a great idea,
"The acting is very good," says Tom Snyder (
Most mainstream critics are heralding the film as a masterpiece, and many are calling for Oscar nominations.from Film Forum, 10/23/03
Holly McClure (Crosswalk) calls
"Eastwood's biggest error is in not ending the film once the murder is solved," says Michael Elliott (Movie Parables). "Instead, he drags out the story for another 20 minutes where it takes such an implausible turn that we have no choice but to utterly dismiss it as ludicrous."
D. J. Williams (Christian Spotlight) disagrees, finding it "a real jewel of a movie. Eastwood has put together a fantastic piece of work. It may be a difficult swim, but this is one