Evildoers get away with murder, innocents get whacked, and so on — hardly a new theme. Clint Eastwood’s 24th directorial endeavor Mystic River dares to be bleaker. It suggests that between crime and misdirected punishment, men mope around miserably, women are whiny and worse, the past controls our fate, and hope is as empty and fleeting as a marching band on Main Street. River’s getting Oscar buzz for method-acting histrionics, and Sean Penn certainly impresses with his latest fits of extreme anguish. (His brow is not as deeply furrowed, however, as it is in 21 Grams, where contrived crisis coincidences pile up even more implausibly than here.) Dennis Lehane’s crime yarn involves a murdered daughter (Emmy Rossum), a vengeful father (Penn), a conflicted cop (Kevin Bacon), and a traumatized survivor of molestation (Tim Robbins). But it has little to share deeper than despairing sighs and cop talk that’s lower-grade than your average NYPD Blue episode. We’re left with a picture that’s uneven and glum, punctuated with awkward blasts of Eastwood’s own solemn music. Sure, it’s good to see Eastwood continuing to explore consequences of vigilante justice, the kind of violence that was his bread and butter as a young actor. But if all he can find there are furrowed brows and woe-is-me coincidences, I’ll take The Outlaw Josie Wales any day. Mystic River is frustratingly humorless, harsh, and hollow, lacking the cohesiveness, color and convincing characterization of his masterpiece Unforgiven.