There have seemingly been no restrictions in Clint Eastwood's directorial armoury, now spanning several decades. He can turn his hand, more than competently and reliably to any genre and this adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel is one of Eastwood's finest, especially in terms of characterisation.
In a small Boston neighbourhood, three young friends are playing, until a car pulls up and abducts one of them. 25 years later the friends have went their separate ways. Jimmy (Penn) is the local gangster, Sean (Bacon) is a police detective and the abuctee Dave (Robbins) is just trying to keep his life together after the traumatic events of his childhood. All these years later, more traumatic events falls upon these former friends as Jimmy's young daughter is murdered and with Dave displaying some very unusual behaviour, he becomes the prime suspect in Sean's investigation. The traumatic events of their past seem to be, only now in their later years, fully unravelling.
Admittedly i haven't read Lehane's book and apparently Robbins' character is given more of a back story which makes more sense to his character and his actions and has less of a whodunnit stroryline. That being said, the mystery involved in the perpetrator of the murder is the film's weakest link and the tenuous revelation of the murderer is very unconvincing which almost threatens to undo the whole thing. Thankfully though, Eastwood holds it together despite that major plot discrepancy and the film is ultimately a character study in the soul searching and what-if's throughout their lives. The whole ensemble put in fine performances but none more so than Sean Penn as the emotionally afflicted and grief ridden father. He was robbed of an Oscar a few years previously for his magnificent turn in "Dead Man Walking" but here gives a similiar emotive and heart wrenching performance and thoroughly deserves his 1st Oscar this time around. Eastwood also directs with consummate ease and adds another powerful and thought provoking film to his credentials.
It could have been a classic but unfortunately has a major flaw in the denouement and like the very fine performances, it's hard to forget.