Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Media Watch: ‘Joan of Arcadia’ on CBS; Eastwood’s ‘Mystic River’
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the Nov. 13, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
On Friday nights at 8 p.m., the CBS television network has a new family show that is well-acted, enjoyable and thought-provoking. The show is Joan of Arcadia, which is a take-off name-wise from the great French saint, Joan of Arc.
Amber Tamblyn with great skill plays Joan Girardi, a teenager living in the town of Arcadia. She is a high school student whose father is the new police chief in town. Each week the story intertwines a case her father (Joe Mantegna) is investigating with an event taking place in Joan’s high school or family experience.
Creator Barbara Hill has added a gimmick of having God appear as different human beings who intersect with Joan. The convention fits well with the Catholic idea of the Mystical Body of Christ. God appears, for example as teenage boy, an African-American woman serving in the school lunch line, or a senior citizen on the bus. God’s interaction with Joan influences her decisions to get a job at a book store, join the chess club, or build a boat in her basement.
It all may sound pretty contrived or trite, but for TV entertainment it works.
Joan’s family provides much of the interaction. It is great to see a family portrayed that actually eats family meals and in the midst of the ups and downs of life loves one another.
Joan’s older brother Kevin, as many know by now, is played by Jason Ritter, the son of the late John Ritter. Kevin has recently been injured in a car accident. He is confined to a wheelchair. His newfound change in his life provides lots of conflict in the weekly stories. His relationship with Joan as a big brother is caring.
Joan has a younger brother who is a bit of a geek. And Joan has a thoughtful and loving mother, portrayed by Mary Steenburgen.
Joan of Arcadia might well be the rather unique television show that parents and teens could talk about together. Give it a try. To top it off, early in the new season Joan of Arcadia is a hit.
Seldom are we privileged to see a movie that brings us to the depths of human evil and tragedy. Clint Eastwood’s new film Mystic River is such a story. It starts with the evil destruction of an 11-year-old boy’s being and goes forth like a spider web to new evil deeds that keep on multiplying.
Yet Mystic River says we continue to live in this hurting world well aware that the sins of our fathers and mothers affect us deeply.
Jimmy, Dave and Sean are playing street hockey on their familiar neighborhood street in Boston. A dark car drives up as they are in the midst of writing their first names in a patch of fresh concrete. The two men act as if they are police officers and force Dave into the car. The car speeds off as Dave looks plaintively out the rear window at his two friends. One of the men has his hand folded over the top of the front seat. We see a religious ring with a cross similar to the ring a bishop would wear.
Later in a montage we cinematically experience the horror of sexual abuse of a child. We note that the man with the ring now wears a silver cross that reminds us of a bishop’s pectoral cross. Eastwood has taken iconic symbols immediately in the opening scenes to make his commentary on the Boston clergy scandals in the press as he was filming his movie.
Twenty-five years pass and we meet Dave (Tim Robbins) bringing his son home from a baseball game. We see a broken man who deeply loves his son. That night Dave is in a pub where he sees Jimmy’s daughter Katie dancing with friends on top of the bar. Later that Sunday morning Dave comes home at 3 a.m. with blood on his hands. His wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) is filled with anxiety as she listens to his story about being mugged. She washes his wounds and takes away his clothes.
Sunday morning Jimmy (Sean Penn) and his wife Annabeth (Laura Linney) are at Mass as one of their daughters makes her First Communion. Jimmy is worried because he knows his older daughter Katie has not shown up for work at his neighborhood grocery store. As we see Jimmy’s daughter going up for Communion and Jimmy trying to make her laugh, the film cuts back and forth to the state park where Katie’s car and body have been found. We are reminded of the brilliant but horrendous baptismal scene in The Godfather.
The head detective on the scene is Sean (Kevin Bacon), the third boy of our original fateful day in which Dave was forced to leave in the menacing car. Sean is separated from his wife, who often calls him on his cell phone and does not speak but listens to him. With Sean is Whitey Powers, played by Laurence Fishburne. Whitey, an African-American, brings an outsider’s vision to the shocking death of Katie. He seeks to break through the Irish-American womb that encloses all the main characters of Mystic River.
The story moves rapidly as Sean and Whitey interview suspects and Sean renews his old connections to the neighborhood.
There are twists and turns as we experience the emotions of closely intertwined characters whose hearts and souls are singed with pain.
In the end, when it all plays out, we still have the remains of a community that watches a parade together. Yet we know beneath the bands and cheerleaders the dark layer is still there and it will continue on its course. The results of evil deeds have not been laid to rest completely. But family and friends struggle on.
Brian Helgoland has written an engrossing screenplay based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Tom Stern has photographed the neighborhood along Mystic River with an incredible beauty. The editing of Mystic River by Joel Cox visually tells the tragic story of three neighbor boys with unrelenting power. The music by Clint Eastwood himself is subdued and perfect for the story.
Mystic River has some of the best acting you will see anywhere. Sean Penn is truly extraordinary. His bouts with emotion at the death of his beloved Katie are hauntingly memorable. His dark side of seeking revenge is understandable but also filled with pathos as he seeks to be his daughter’s avenging angel.
Tim Robbins is outstanding as the wounded Dave. It is the role of a lifetime. Kevin Bacon exhibits a different kind of woundedness that prevents him from really opening himself to his wife. He is absolutely first rate. Marcia Gay Harden is filled with fear of her husband in a way that seemed a little over the top to me. Laura Linney is great as the Lady Macbeth wife who spurs her husband on. Laurence Fishburne gives a first-rate, subdued performance.
In Mystic River Clint Eastwood has given us an incredible study into the dark side of our lives. Violence here is not movie violence. It is violence. Eastwood forces us to ask questions that go to the core of our society.
Do not miss Mystic River. Movies don’t get much better than this.
The Motion Picture Association of America rates Mystic River R for profanity, violence, and despair. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Mystic River A-III – for adults.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Cheney, Wash., and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)