Eastwood's Cannes film tells 'adult story'

Saturday, May 24, 2003

— Clint Eastwood's new movie focuses on a trio of tortured characters: a sexual abuse victim, a cop whose wife left him and a reformed criminal whose old instincts come back when his daughter is killed.

"Mystic River," competing for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is a somber, ambiguous tale that Eastwood says some studios shied away from.

"If you follow successful films that are out there, and jump on the fad, then you ... make a comic book," Eastwood told reporters in Cannes on Friday. "I still like to think there's an audience there for serious adult stories.

"I'm too old to make comic books."

Eastwood, 72, was showing his fifth movie at the French Riviera festival. He was co-president of the Cannes jury alongside Catherine Deneuve in 1994; they awarded the top prize to Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."

Eastwood's new film has a cast led by Sean Penn, who plays Jimmy Markum, the father of a 19-year-old murder victim. Tim Robbins is a man haunted by childhood sexual abuse, and Kevin Bacon is a police officer investigating the murder. The three play childhood friends who are thrown together as adults.

Marcia Gay Harden and Laurence Fishburne have smaller roles, as does Laura Linney, who plays Markum's wife and delivers a thrilling Lady Macbeth-like monologue at the end.

"There was so much esprit de corps," Eastwood said. "It made my job extremely easy, and I just had to stay out of the way and not screw it up."

Eastwood doesn't appear in the movie, but he composed the orchestral music that accompanies it.

"Mystic River" is based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. It revisits themes Eastwood has touched on before: revenge, and violence and its aftermath.

The story starts in a working-class neighborhood of Boston, with three kids carving their names into wet sidewalk concrete.

Then a car pulls up, and one of the boys is abducted and sexually tortured for days before he escapes. For the rest of their lives, the other boys wonder: What if it had been us instead?

"What made this story attractive to tell is ... what one little instant can do, and how it affects so many people," Eastwood said. "Not just one person, but his life, his family life, the lives of his friends."

The characters lose touch, but the murder and subsequent investigation bring them together. Bacon's character is investigating, while Robbins falls under suspicion.

The movie's ending is deliberately ambiguous. It's unclear how the characters are going to deal with the events that turned their lives upside down.

Eastwood showed "Absolute Power" out of competition in 1997. Three of his other films were in competition: "White Hunter, Black Heart" in 1990; "Bird" in 1988; and "Pale Rider" in 1985.

He has never won the Palme d'Or, the top prize.

The Cannes Film Festival jury will announce awards Sunday. "Mystic River" is competing against 19 other films.