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Clint Eastwood's grimly deterministic view of human nature is never more apparent than in his masterful tragedies: Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart, Unforgiven, and this dark police procedural, adapted by Brian Helgeland from a novel by Dennis Lehane. Three childhood chums in working-class Boston grow up to become a family man who has never fully recovered from childhood sexual abuse (Tim Robbins), an ex-con and convenience-store owner whose 19-year-old daughter has been brutally murdered (Sean Penn), and a police detective (Kevin Bacon) investigating that crime with his partner (Laurence Fishburne). The performances, especially of Penn and Robbins, are so powerful and detailed (down to the Boston accents) that they often persuade one to overlook the narrative contrivances (particularly the incessant crosscutting), the arty trimmings (including Eastwood's own score), and the dubious social philosophy. With Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney. R, 140 min.

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