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Four Brothers and Mystic River

It was a violent weekend at the Helms’ house. Donna and I watched Four Brothers and Mystic River, two movies that had parallel storylines: wounded felons seeking revenge for the murder of a woman. In the case of Four Brothers, the murdered woman was a foster mother in Detroit who cared for four young men whom nobody else would take in while in Mystic River the daughter of an emerging neighborhood patriarch was the slain. Clint Eastwood directed Mystic River and John Singleton directed Four Brothers. For my money, both were effective at telling their stories and the actors (Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon in Mystic River: Mark Wahlberg, Andre Benjamin, Tyrese Gibson, Garrett Hedlund, Terrence Moore in Four Brothers) were excellent. Four Brothers was much more gruesomely graphic with gratuitous violence–the bone sticking out of the leg comes to mind.

It is a familiar story. Creation, the Fall, Redemption, the Restoration. As children, the protagonists were wounded, mistreated and/or abused. Because of these experiences, their brutal tactics and mistrust of law enforcement as adults can be overlooked if not forgiven. During their vengeance seeking missions, nuanced mistrust began to brew in the Boston neighborhood between childhood friends in Mystic River and in Detroit amongst the foster brothers in Four Brothers. Each movie loses one of its key characters: naivete claims the youngest brother while a disastrous web of lies and distrust lead to Tim Robbins’ character dying at the hand of his friend, Sean Penn’s character. Again the good cop character is helpful and present in both movies, but ends up dead in Four Brothers. In the end, Mystic River is sadder and certainly deeper and a more compelling story but both movies end with some sort of redemption-inspired restoration.

The fact that I enjoyed two movies like this in one weekend and can think of dozens of similar movies or books like The Count of Monte Cristo, Sleepers and V for Vendetta that I equally enjoyed is revealing. I want swift, sweet justice and it is nice to see it exacted on a big screen in about 90 minutes. That longing for permanent restoration cannot be quenched by images on a screen, but even in the most violent context it is a sweet foretaste of what is to come.

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