My family’s grand Thanksgiving tradition revolves around televised football almost as much as it does around turkey. In 2003 we celebrated a little late, so there was no football on TV and really not much of anything going on to fill those awkward all-grown family hours, so I suggested a movie. We couldn’t all agree on one, or my mom had somewhere else to go or something, so my dad and I decided on Mystic River.
I convinced my dad that we should see Mystic River because it was directed by one of his favorites. Bad idea. I don’t know what kinds of movies my dad likes these days–I guess stuff like Die Hard 4 or Iron Man might work–but everything my dad liked about the 70’s and 80’s Eastwood is almost completely absent from the 90’s and later Eastwood. I spent many Saturday afternoons growing up watching Clint Eastwood westerns and cop movies. My dad took me to see Firefox at the height of the cold war and it was one of my favorite movies for a long time. “Think in Russian!” But all of that tough, badass, heroic guy stuff was replaced by gritty, emotial movies and misfire dramedies by the early 2000’s, and Mystic River was just a bridge too far.
Some of my dad’s reaction to the film was undoubtedly colored by his disgust towards Sean Penn and Tim Robbins as celebrities who couldn’t keep their leftist, commie pinko opinions to themselves. My dad is a guy who had a shirt in the 80’s that said “RUSSIA SUCKS”; who served his country, fought in a war, and grew up on cowboys, football, and John Wayne. Firefox was more his speed for a number of reasons, but not least of which was that it didn’t force him to care about characters played by actors who had turned their backs on the United States of America.
I can understand that. There are movies that I can’t get into just because Jack Black is in them. But Mystic River was also that kind of yucky, overly-dark and sort of hopeless portrayal of people at their worst that doesn’t make for a fun time at the movies. I agree with my dad on that point–the movie was an exercise in watching people make bad decisions and it wasn’t too entertaining. What we split on was whether or not it was a “good” movie, or maybe more accurately, a well-made movie. I’m not sure that my dad can see past the fact that he doesn’t like something to the notion that it might be good by some objective measure–at least not if Clint Eastwood is in it. I don’t know if that owes more to his worldview, his particular brand of self-assuredness, or just his age, but I suppose all of those things factor in to the way he works. He’s certainly earned the right to think that a well-respected Clint Eastwood movie ‘wasn’t too good,’ I just wonder how he feels about the kind of director that Eastwood has become.