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Actor Eli Wallach's name does not appear in the film's onscreen credits. A written list of institutions and city and state organizations that the producers wished to thank appears at the end of the film. Among those are the Massachusetts Port Authority, the City of Canton and the City of Chelsea. At the end of the scene in which Jimmy shoots Dave, the screen fades to white. Following the film's final sequence, the Columbus Day Parade, the camera pans to the boys' names on the sidewalk, then to the Mystic Bridge and the Mystic River. The bridge, which spans the Mystic River between Charlestown and Chelsea, provides the principal highway link between Chelsea, a largely industrial city, and Boston, which lies two miles to the south of Chelsea. The bridge was renamed the Maurice J. Tobin Mystic River Bridge in 1967 in honor of Maurice J. Tobin, a former Boston mayor and Massachusetts governor who created the Massachusetts Port Authority, and also ordered the construction of the bridge.
There are several differences between Dennis Lehane's novel and the film Mystic River. In the novel, the character of "Sean Devine" is more fleshed out. Lehane writes that Sean's wife "Lauren" was having an affair with another man, and when she left him, Sean did not know if the baby she was carrying was his or not. Their marriage had broken down because he was overly preoccupied with his job. In Lehane's novel, Sean's partner, "Whitey Powers," is a middle-aged Irish American. In the book, "Dave Boyle" has been experiencing sexual feelings toward young boys, and part of the reason he kills the pedophile is to destroy those feelings in himself. Dave is afraid to tell anyone about his crime because he would then have to admit that he was attracted to young boys. At the end of the novel, "Jimmy," who is named "Jimmy Marcus" in the book, decides that he can take better care of the neighborhood if he reverts back to his life of crime.
In a May 2003 interview with The Times (London), director Clint Eastwood said that he immediately optioned the book after reading it. In a May 2003 Los Angeles Times interview, Eastwood stated he had difficulty getting funding to make the film because many of the studios were reluctant to address the topic of child molestation. According to Eastwood, Warner Bros., with whom he had a long-standing relationship, agreed to provide financial backing as "almost a favor" [to Eastwood]. The studio insisted on a $25,000,000 budget for the project, a relatively low amount, and as a result, Eastwood took no salary, receiving only a DGA minimum stipend. In a May 2003 Hollywood Reporter news item and an October 2003 Long Beach Press Telegram article, Tim Robbins, who played the part of Dave, stated that Eastwood would shoot a scene in just two or three takes. In a televised interview, Eastwood explained that he relied on fewer takes to make the scenes feel "fresher." The film's pressbook notes that Eastwood was adamant that the film be shot in Boston. According to the pressbook, the scene in which Sean and Whitey respond to an automobile accident was shot on the Maurice J. Tobin Mystic River Bridge. The pressbook also notes that author Lehane appeared as a politician in the Columbus Day parade sequence. The film's interiors were shot in Canton, MS, a suburb just south of Boston, and the score was recorded in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The vampire movie that Dave is watching on television is the 1998 film John Carpenter's Vampires.
Eastwood and screenwriter Brian Helgeland had previously worked together on the 2002 Malpaso Company film Blood Work, for which Helgeland wrote the screenplay and Eastwood directed and starred. Eastwood and Marcia Gay Harden, who played "Celeste Boyle" in Mystic River, worked together in the 2000 Malpaso production Space Cowboys in which Eastwood directed and starred and Harden played a featured role. Robbins and Sean Penn worked together in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, which was written and directed by Robbins and starred Penn.
Mystic River received the National Board of Review award for Best Film of the Year and was selected as one of AFI's top ten films of the year. The National Society of Film Critics named Eastwood Best Director of 2003, and he was nominated by the Directors Guild for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for 2003. Eastwood and his fellow Mystic River producers Robert Lorenz and Judie G. Hoyt were nominated by the Producers Guild for the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures. Robbins won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actor and Penn was awarded the Best Actor Critics' Choice Award by the BFCA. The Screen Actors Guild nominated Penn for Best Actor in a Film, while the picture received a SAG nomination for Best Acting by an Ensemble. The Art Directors Guild nominated the film for Best Production Design in a Contemporary Film.
Penn received an Academy Award for Best Actor, and Robbins received the award for Best Supporting Actor. The picture also received Academy Award nominations in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Harden). Mystic River also received the following Golden Globe nominations: Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Director-Motion Picture, Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama (Penn) and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Robbins).