In the fall of 1982, almost a year before “Return of the Jedi” was released, I was talking to my best friend Johnny Boyle, who was the biggest “Star Wars” fan I knew. I was only a minor “Star Wars” fan, but I definitely planned on seeing the next movie when it came out.
“I can’t wait to find out if Darth Vader is really Luke’s father,” I said.
Johnny’s face lit up. “He is! And Leia’s his sister!”
From that day on, I’ve hated spoilers. Until I saw “Return of the Jedi”, at which point Johnny Boyle and I were no longer friends, I didn’t totally believe the Leia thing – I mean, didn’t they kiss in one of the other movies? Sure enough, though, Johnny Boyle was right. I still don’t know how he got his information or why he took so much joy in ruining the movie for me (not to mention himself), but these days, I’ll bet he’s somehow connected with Harry Knowles.
It’s for this reason that until now, I’ve avoided spoiling the ending of Mystic River. But now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided the movie is Best Picture material, I feel it’s time to explain why I’m so mad at Clint Eastwood. Bad Clint Eastwood, bad!
SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen “Mystic River” yet, you’ve been warned…
First of all, let me say that I really enjoyed the film most of the way through. If it had delivered on what it set up, it would’ve been in my Top 10 for sure. If the payoff had been really amazing, it might even have been my #1. Instead, the final twenty minutes were not only inexcusable, they ruined everything that came before. I didn’t know it for the first two hours, but all along, I had been set up for a lie.
The setup itself was great. Tim Robbins gets molested as a kid and grows up into a messed-up adult. Late one night, he stumbles in the front door of his home, shaken up and bloody, with no explanation of his whereabouts. That same night, his childhood friend’s teenage daughter is murdered. Clearly, the messed-up molestation victim did something messed-up to the young girl. Or did he?
For Robbins to have committed the murder seems too obvious. But what other explanation could there be? Well, that’s why we stay tuned for the rest of the film. And what do we get at the end? The mute kid did it. Apparently, he was jealous or something. Oh yeah, and the reason Tim Robbins seemed like he had committed a murder when he stumbled home that night was that he had committed a murder, just not the murder we’ve been caring about for the last two hours. It just so happens that by coincidence, this was the night Tim Robbins discovered a child molester on the prowl and decided to kill him to put his long-festering demons to rest. So he is a murderer, but he’s still a good-hearted soul who didn’t deserve to die at Sean Penn’s hand. Look, there’s my cake. Yum, wasn’t it delicious?
As for that murder we were so invested in all this time? It was committed by an underdeveloped character who we’re supposed to believe was capable of murder because, well, because he’s mute. Mute people are creepy, right? They’re such enigmas. Who knows why they’re not talking. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to confess all the murders they’re committing.
It was more than just offensive; it was a major cheat. When you reveal your killer, it can’t feel like it came out of nowhere. It has to be someone the audience knows. In a movie that lasts over two hours and has tons of characters to keep track of, you don’t want to overdevelop a minor character, or it’ll be too big a clue that he’s your killer. Making the killer a mute kid solves this problem. You don’t have to give him a lot of scenes to make him stick in our memory – who’s going to forget a mute kid? And making him mute is a perfect excuse for not developing his character more. When he’s unmasked as the murderer, we won’t be wondering, “Why haven’t we heard more from this character?” He’s a freaking mute. What was he going to say anyway? And honestly, among the movie’s many characters, could there have been a more obvious suspect than the mute kid? I haven’t seen a murder mystery in ages where the butler did it. These days, it’s always some creepy mute kid.
And then, just when I’m wishing I had bought an extra-large root beer so that I could throw it at the screen, Laura Linney suddenly transforms into Lady MacBeth. Memo to the filmmakers: working class people don’t instantly become eloquent and poetic just because their husbands have committed murder. Moments like that are not the time to impress us with your vocabulary, Brian Helgeland. It’s much harder to write a speech that stays true to a character’s voice and still has emotional impact than a “profound” Shakespearean monologue that comes out of nowhere and ultimately, says nothing other than, “I’m not mad at you for killing that guy”.
If you haven’t seen “Mystic River” yet, I hope you’re not still reading this. Even though it was a lousy movie, I’d hate to ruin it for anyone. Okay, I used my blog to print spoilers for a movie that’s still in release. Bad, Jerry, bad! I promise not to do it again. And if I did blow the ending for you, then I apologize wholeheartedly.
Unless this is Johnny Boyle. It serves you right, asshole.