Mystic River is a strange creature. Powerfully acted by its three main actors, the film is a powerful tale of stolen youth and the trauma faced by all involved. But while these talented actors blow us away with their amazing conviction, the film, especially as we approach resolution, becomes increasingly forced, and the film’s climax is extended so long all meaning and intensity built up over the past two hours is lost.

As Jimmy, Dave and Sean write their names in the wet pavement, two men flashing badges threaten the boys and take one of them away. As the other two find out later, Dave was held and abused for four days before escaping. Twenty-five years later, all three men are still alive and all living in Boston. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is an ex-con who runs a local general store, Dave (Tim Robbins) is a blue-collar worker of some kind and still broken from his ordeal as a child, and Sean (Kevin Bacon) is now a detective with the Massachusetts State Police, suffering through a complicated, yet perfectly defined separation from his wife.

Jimmy’s 19-year-old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is in love with Brendan Harris (Tom Guiry), who Jimmy despises due to a long family rivalry. Their love is puppy love, and the two plan to elope to Las Vegas. The entire neighbourhood is suddenly thrown into shock when Katie is found in a ditch in a park. Sean is placed on the case, but Jimmy initiates his own private investigations, worried the police will fail to move quickly enough to actually solve the crime.

The film is filled with sublimely talented actors (and Kevin Bacon) who play everything, and off each other so naturally its a wonder the rest of the film’s flaws are so obvious. Sean Penn is absolutely terrific as our tormented, over-protective father Jimmy, who slowly begins to break down the longer this case goes unsolved. He sneaks into the locked-off park where his daughter was found murdered, and is absolutely heartbreaking as he calls out to his old friend, Sean, and is held down by five police officers. He sits outside his daughter’s wake, opens up to and eventually breaks down in front of his old friend Dave, who assures him it is alright to cry, as well as stay strong for the rest of the family. As the mystery as to who murdered his daughter unfolds, we begin to see darker and darker signs of Jimmy, who is completely supported by his second wife and two right-hand men.

Dave, who works in an undisclosed blue-collar environment, is still fond of Jimmy, and almost equally protective of his daughter. When Dave goes to a bar for the night, Katie and a few of her friends waltz in, already pretty drunk, and begin to party. Dave remains at his place in the bar, keeping his eye on them. When he returns home, covered in blood and bruised hands, he tells his wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) he was defended himself against a mugger, killing him. Suspiciously, Dave gives a different story to each person who asks him what happened and eventually his own wife begins to doubt him more and more. Incredibly versatile and underappreciated, Tim Robbins is darkly reserved as our first tortured soul.

Dave was the last of the boys to write his name in the cement, and only completed two letters before he was forced into a car, an image of the innocence of youth being stripped away before its time. While only one child was taken away, the other two are tortured with the idea of not helping their friend, falling victim to the lies of a man flashing his badge, and the trauma they faced as they worry about what happened to their friend.

All this begins to fizzle away as the film creeps into its climax, takes to long to make its point, and then continues to fizzle out way after it should have finished. While the audience attempt to unravel the crime Jimmy, along with his two friends, uncover their own clues, as do the police during their interviews and further study of evidence. The mystery unravels into a tragic end, although by the time it is all said and done, the film has built up incredible suspense, our climactic final meeting continues to drag, and all suspense has disappeared.