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Faultless - and the novel is even better
on 22 May 2010
(Review of the Blu-ray version)
The book versus the film. It's an old argument, and in this case, outstanding though this film is, the book is even better.
Three 11-year-old boys play in the poorer streets of Boston, but one of them is persuaded to get into a car by two men posing as police officers. He's gone for four days and suffers dreadful abuse of a kind that the viewer can only imagine. Then the film moves forwards 30-odd years to the present day, and while two of the friends (Jimmy and Dave) are still in the same neighbourhood, the third - Sean - is now a homicide detective and living on the better side of town. A 19-year-old girl is brutally murdered, and Sean soon realises that she's Jimmy's daughter. Most of the rest of the film is devoted to finding out who did it, and there are some red herrings and surprises along the way. There's something of a race to track down the murderer, because Jimmy's done time and he wants to avenge his daughter's death in his own special way before Sean finds the killer by way of the police procedural process.
This is outstanding in every detail, with a great cast of actors at all levels. Sean Penn is just perfect as ex-con-gone-straight Jimmy (well, nearly straight), and Kevin Bacon as Sean and Tim Robbins as Dave quickly become the characters the readers of the book will have seen in their mind's eye - not necessarily in immediate appearance, but more so in their very different personalities. Penn and Robbins won Oscars for their performances in fact. It's high drama of the highest quality, and yet again hats off to Clint Eastwood for creating such a gem - he must surely be one of the best film directors around today. He produced the musical score too.
With further Oscar nominations for Eastwood as Best Director, Brian Helgeland for Best Writing and Screenplay, not to mention Marcia Gay Harden as Best Supporting Actress and the film itself nominated as Best Film, it's not surprising that it's as good as it is but awards and nominatons alone do not necessarily make for a great film; in this case they do, for this has to be one of the best films of its kind in recent years, if we're talking about mystery dramas. Eastwood is relatively faithful to the book of the same name by Dennis Lehane, but inevitably there are compromises. The most obvious to me was the Boston atmosphere, which played such a big part in the novel but is only occasionally on view in the film. Then there's the camaraderie among the three boys, and the bond they sealed back in the day; it was lovingly portrayed in the book and became its heart and soul. In the film I suppose there just wasn't the time to do that, but anyone unfamiliar with the novel won't know what's missing.
In spite of that, this is a great film, one in which all involved give of their best to produce a near flawless result: the writing, directing, acting and production style can't be faulted, it's a film worth buying rather than just renting. In Blu-ray the treats are enhanced of course, and this is one of those which looks like a high-def film from the first minute. The sound quality is excellent too. In case it wasn't already very clear, I give this Blu-ray film the highest recommendation; but I have to admit it - somehow the book is better still.
One of the great films of the 21st century so far.