Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by:Brian Helgeland
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney
Released: November 20, 2003
Grade: A

What goes around, comes around.

As kids, Jimmy Markum (Penn), Sean Devine (Bacon) and Dave Boyle (Robbins) were best friends.  That was until Dave was kidnapped by a stranger passing himself off as a police officer.  After four days, Dave escaped his captors but the hours of sexual abuse would leave him a changed individual

Twenty years have now passed and the friendships have faded away.  Jimmy spent a few years in jail but has now settled down and has three daughters with his wife Annabeth (Linney).  Sean is a police officer but is still scarred from his wife who unexpectedly left him six months ago.  Dave is married to Celeste (Harden) and has a small boy but he’s still distant and very difficult to be close to.

On an otherwise ordinary Saturday night, a girl is murdered.  That girl is Katie Markum, Jimmy’s eldest daughter.  Sean is in charge of the case and finds himself reacquainted with his childhood friend.  Jimmy isn’t making Sean’s job easy because the enraged father has hired his own goons to investigate the crime and “take care of” the person responsible.

Call it irony but one of the leading suspects is Dave Boyle.  Celeste knows her husband got home late that night with his chest cut and his hands covered in blood.  The aloof Dave said he was attacked by a mugger but Celeste is in an unenviable position.  She thinks her husband is lying to her but should she betray her husband’s trust by informing the police?

When you look at the cast and crew, you’ll realise nothing could go wrong with the production.  There’s director Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), writer Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) and stars Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking), Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption), Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13), Laura Linney (You Can Count On Me), Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock) and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix).  Take a deep breath and think about how promising that sounds.

Eastwood may be in his 70s but he’s a man with the experience of directing over 20 feature motion pictures.  He appreciates the sombre tone of this thriller and keeps it deliberate and unglamorous.  He performs wonderful tricks with the lighting.  If you pay close attention, you’ll notice there are a number of shots in darkness where only one half of a character’s face can be seen.  Such cinematography is not an accident – it is the sign of a director with direction.

Sean Penn gives a heartfelt performance as Katie’s father.  The talk is that Penn will earn himself a deserved Oscar nomination this year (it would be his fourth).  He isn’t a fan of award shows and the fact that doesn’t usually attend hurts his chances but this could be his year.  The other standout would be Marcia Gay Harden as Dave’s wife.  There’s a particular scene at the end of the picture which I can’t elaborate on but highlights how great an actress she is.

Based on the popular novel from Dennis Lehane (which I haven’t read but am assured it’s very good), we are looking at one of the year’s best pictures.  It is a powerful tale with every human emotion on display.