‘Mystic River’ is a multi-Oscar-winning neo-noir crime drama based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. The 2003 film was adapted for the screen by Brian Helgeland and sees Clint Eastwood as director and debuting scorer. The story follows three childhood friends whose lives crash together when one of them faces a family tragedy. Being set in an intimate Boston neighborhood helps the movie build tension within its confines, and emphasizes the entwined lives of the people that share it. A masterclass in restrained film making, ‘Mystic River’ quietly turns a seemingly innocent residential area into the ominous lair of a brutal, unseen murderer. Curious about where this film was shot? We’ve got the details!
Mystic River Filming Locations
‘Mystic River’ is set in a fictitious blue-collar Boston neighborhood called East Buckingham. The neighborhood takes inspiration from many of Boston’s similar middle-class areas like Charlestown and Brighton, and for the sake of authenticity, the film itself was shot in many of Boston’s neighborhoods. Director Eastwood had to work quite hard to convince studio executives to let him film in Boston, as the movie was originally slated to be filmed in Toronto. In the end, Eastwood said he would forego his director’s fee in exchange for letting the film be shot in Boston. The rest, including its multiple Academy nominations and awards, are history. Principal photography for ‘Mystic River’ took place from September 26, 2002, to November 17, 2002. Let’s take a closer look at the locations we see in the movie.
To give it its unmistakable air of authenticity, Eastwood filmed the entire move in and around south and east Boston. Neighborhoods on both sides of the namesake of the movie, the Mystic River, were used to depict various indoor and outdoor locations.
One of the first iconic Boston landmarks that we see in the film is the Tobin Bridge, which goes across the Mystic River, connecting Charlestown to Chelsea. We see the bridge in the background in some scenes, before seeing it featured as the scene of an accident, where we are introduced to 2 of the lead characters— homicide detectives Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon) and Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne).
Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) store, which is known as The Cottage Market in the film, is actually a convenience store called Miller’s Market, located at 336 K Street between 7th Street and 8th Street in South Boston. It’s interesting to note how locations portrayed nearby in the film are nearby in real life too, as the bar where we see Jimmy’s daughter next after the convenience store is Doyle’s Cafe on 3484 Washington Street, a little further south in Jamaica Plain. In the film, it is named “McGill’s.” Doyle’s cafe is also a Boston icon. Having been open for over 130 years before closing down in 2019, there are now plans to reopen the historic joint.
Outdoor filming also took place at Glen Road at Glade Avenue, a short distance away from Jamaica Plain. This was the site for the scene with the abandoned car that becomes a crime scene. In the film, this is followed by scenes that were filmed in the Long Crouch Woods in Franklin Park. The scenes shot here featured the bear dens located in the park, which were originally constructed to house live bears. The bear dens seen in the film are located near the Seaver Street entrance to Franklin Park. The Wellsmere Monumental Works on 3841 Washington Street are featured in the scene which has Sean Penn walking amongst gravestones, with an iconic 1820s house in the background that’s located at 3849 Washington Street.
Charlestown on the banks of the Mystic River in Boston is featured as the neighborhood that Dave (Tim Robbins) moves to. Filming here involved both indoor and outdoor shoots of multiple scenes involving actors Robbins and Penn, both of whom would go on to win Oscars for their performances in the movie. Robbins’ character Dave’s house is located at 127 High Street, Charlestown. Another Boston store, Costello’s Package Store on 1084 Boylston Street, is seen briefly in the film. Apparently, the proud owners even put up screenshots of their store featured on the movie in their storefront windows.
Various scenes were filmed in the gritty streets of East Boston neighborhoods, including the film’s opening abduction scene on Condor Street in Chelsea, and a parade scene on Monmouth Street. An empty lot on Border Street on the banks of the Mystic River is the site where a makeshift bar was built from scratch and used near the climax of the movie.
The neighborhoods of Dorchester and Mattapan were also used as backdrops for additional scenes in the movie. Sets used for filming were built in a warehouse in the town of Canton in the Greater Boston Area. Part of the production also reportedly took place in Los Angeles, California, possibly because Eastwood’s own production company, Malpaso Productions, is located nearby in Burbank.
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