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Clint Eastwood – Mystic River

      It was a no-brainer for Clint Eastwood to premiere his Boston-set-and-filmed Mystic River at the Cannes Film Festival last May. In France, Eastwood is revered as an old-timer "auteur" filmmaker. "The film was seen by the president of the festival, a rough cut in LA," Eastwood explained at his Cannes press conference, where he was flanked by his screenwriter, Brian Helgeland, and his actors, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins. "They were enthusiastic, I was enthusiastic, and I thought, why not? The French people have been very kind to me all the years, and I feel good about them too."

     Why would he choose to adapt Mystic River, which begins, in Dennis Lehane's novel, with one of the spookiest scenes imaginable, when a South Boston boy, hanging with his two friends, is kidnapped off the street to be sexually molested by two scoundrels in a car posing as policemen?

     Eastwood: "It's very difficult to say what attracts you to the project, but I've always been very curious about victims of crime, victims of child abuse, one of the most hideous crimes we have on the planet. There's a certain father's nightmare in the drama of this film, how one [terrible] tiny incident affects so many people. It's a kind of fate-driven story, a train you can't get off, like it or not. Kevin has a speech at the end of the movie: 'Maybe we all got in that car that day.' It's baggage these characters carry from when they are little boys.

     "A lot of studios didn't want to do this project, even people I knew, saying they're more interested in other kinds of movies. I've had suggestions to revisit Harry Callahan. In the era in which we live, the obvious thing is successful films. You jump on a fad, you make a comic book. I'm too old to make a comic book. We were very lucky, the people who did it left me alone, though with a small budget. It wasn't Mystic River Reloaded. We were definitely independent."

     Why, someone asked, did they shoot Mystic River in Boston and not in far-cheaper Canada?

     Robbins: "I love Canada, but I'm so tired of going there."

     Eastwood: "We were suggested to go to Toronto, but there'd be no Mystic River there. For this film, Boston is it. Dennis is from there, Brian is from [New Bedford]forty miles away. We used the BSO, a wonderful symphony. I can't think of anything that isn't Boston."

     Was Dennis Lehane involved with the screenplay?

     Brian Helgeland: "I did a draft or two with Clint, when it was all done, we sent it to Dennis, to hear from the horse's mouth. He gave us several pages of notes. We responded and made changes, whenever [his suggestion] was movie-wise over book-wise."

     And Mystic River's stellar cast? "All players without exception were first choices," said Eastwood. "It was a movie that moved right along. We shot it in 39 days, one of the most pleasant experiences I've ever had as a director."

     Press conference complete. The next day outside Cannes, at an intimate lunch at the opulent Chateau Marmont, Helgeland, Robbins, and Bacon talked in more detail about the Mystic River experience.

     Helgeland: "It's a hard movie to like. I mean that in a good way. It's a movie without mercy, not giving the audience something to hang on to. Eastwood had bought the book, I was brought in to adapt the novel to the screen. It sounds corny, but I'm honored to work for Clint. Clint wants freshness. He said, 'Do the best script you can do, tell it the way you want to tell it.'"

     What did Helgeland see with Mystic River? "It's Greek tragedy. Where Oedipus is born, that's where he's going. If you're born in Beverly Hills, than statistically you have a different destiny than if you're born in South Boston. The act when this kid is raped: he's framed for life."

     Tim Robbins: "What attracts Clint is the wage, how your actions come back to affect you. Dirty Harry was thought of as a right-wing, an 'it's OK to go out and get revenge' picture. If Clint made the movie now, Harry would throw down his badge in the middle of the film, it would be the aftermath Clint would be interested in."

     What is Robbins' take on his character, Dave, the adult version of the raped boy, who was ostracized in his conservative "macho" neighborhood after he returned from being raped? "Dave doesn't believe in the neighborhood. He [experiences] why countries go to war: when chickens aren't doing so good, other chickens go after them. When someone on the inside doesn't seem like us, we get rid of them."

     Kevin Bacon: "Meryl Streep had told me, 'You're really going to like working with Clint.' There was no rehearsal, maybe two or three takes. That kind of implies a hurried atmosphere, but it was actually relaxed, the most prepared set. And I do my best work in two or three takes. What's preposterous is that all people don't work that way: they get paid a lot of money and they're ill-prepared."

     Bacon's take on his character,Sean, one of the three boys at the rape scene, who grows up to be a policeman?

     "I don't think any of us are as damaged as Dave, but Sean Devine is a haunted by these memories. He's thrown himself into his job, to the detriment of his marriage. He's a lonely, troubled guy, though I don't think he's a bad guy. I'm a Massachusetts state trooper, so obviously I hung out with Mass. State troopers. It was riding around, getting a beer, seeing what type of guy goes into that type of work.

     "The book was a tremendous research tool, a tremendous backstory, telling me about the relation with my father, about my wife. It's a great book and the screenplay is one of the best adaptations I've ever read. It made our job incredibly easy: show up, hit our marks."

Boston Phoenix – November, 2003


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