Studio: Warner Bros. (released Oct. 8)
Source material: “Mystic River,” novel by Dennis Lehane
Storyline: The lives of three childhood friends (Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon) are indelibly impacted by the boyhood abduction of one of them and a more violent crime that reunites them 25 years later.
About the script: A blend of taut police procedural and searing drama, with exquisitely observed truths about the complexity of human nature and legacy of childhood trauma. Working-class characters are neither condescended to nor elevated, a goal for scripter Helgeland, who grew up in a similar neighborhood south of Boston.
Helmer Clint Eastwood, who bought the rights, wanted to tell the story in its entirety. Among the themes that intrigued Helgeland: in exchange for a sense of identity, place and protection, inhabitants of a neighborhood “play the parts it demands they play and if you don’t, you’re not welcome.” The idea that “it takes a village to screw up a child” is the flip side of the adage, Helgeland says. The script and its morality tale of how “the sins of a neighborhood are visited upon its sons” are haunting and masterfully spare.
Biggest challenge: “To take the totality of the story and keep it alive … not chopping it down. The balance of combining drama with a whodunit, so by the end, who did it is unimportant.”
Breakthrough idea: “The neighborhood and the ties that bind it together (conformity), and the consequences of things that tear it apart.”
Favorite scene: The scene when Jimmy Markum (Penn) is told by his father-in-law (Kevin Conway) that “no matter how much Penn loved his daughter, he’s not allowed to fall apart,” Helgeland says, “He was right to tell him so, regardless of how hard-bitten it is.”
Lines we love: Brendan (Thomas Guiry) tells Sean (Bacon) he fears the love he had for his slain girlfriend doesn’t happen twice.
Sean: “It doesn’t happen once, most cases.”
Writer’s bio: Helgeland won an Oscar as co-writer of adapted screenplay “L.A. Confidential.” He also wrote “Postman,” “Conspiracy Theory” and “Blood Work,” and wrote and directed “The Order” and “A Knight’s Tale.” He honed his writing skills on low-budget horror films.