Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

The shadows seethe with violence, guilt, secrets and regret in the down-at-the-heels, working-class Boston neighborhood where this melancholy tale of murder — physical and spiritual — unfolds. A brief prologue set in 1975 establishes the friendship between three neighborhood 11-year-olds, cocky and perpetually defiant Jimmy Marcum, tough but sensible Sean Devine and wide-eyed, deferential Dave Boyle. Two men claiming to be police officers catch the youngsters in an act of minor vandalism, but only Dave, the natural-born victim, is bullied into their car. He returns four days later, abused and traumatized, and the lives of all three boys are forever changed. Some three decades later, Dave (Tim Robbins) and Jimmy (Sean Penn) still live in the old neighborhood. Jimmy's wild streak sent him to prison, but after losing his first wife to cancer while inside, he straightened up to raise their daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum), now 19 and the apple of his eye. Remarried and still the cock of the walk, Jimmy has two more little girls with the steely Annabeth (Laura Linney). Annabeth's less resilient cousin, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden), married Dave, who seems to be sinking under the weight of his inner demons, barely able to hold it together for the sake of their small son. Tragedy brings Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a state policeman, back: Katie is found beaten and shot to death in a state park, and Sean and his partner (Laurence Fishburne) are assigned to the crime. The volatile Jimmy immediately launches his own personal inquiry, and official and unofficial suspicions soon dovetail on Dave, who's acting oddly even for him and tells everyone a different story about why his hand looks as though he punched it through a wall. The burden of suspicion lies most heavily on Celeste, who knows what no one else does: Dave came home agitated and covered with blood the night Katie died. Haunted by the resigned face of a child looking through the rear window of a car as it vanishes into moral darkness, Clint Eastwood's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's literary thriller is suffused with a sense of sadness for opportunities missed and wrong turns taken. If he were a more subtle director, it would be a great film; as it is, it's an extremely good one, anchored by the subtly devastating performances of Penn, Robbins and Bacon. The supporting cast is equally good, and blue collar Boston's mean streets take on a beaten-down life of their own.