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Overall Rating
3.73

Awesome39.11%
Worth A Look: 20.3%
Average: 20.79%
Pretty Bad: 14.36%
Total Crap: 5.45%

12 reviews, 130 user ratings


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Mystic River
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by David Hollands

"A river leading to a sewage plant."
2 stars

****WARNING: This review contains spoilers throughout.****

Mystic River is a sad thing indeed: a film that begins well and then slowly spirals down until it becomes a mess of melodramatic theatrics, plodding scenes, and embarrassing moments of extreme coincidence and convenience.

The film starts when two childhood friends, Jimmy and Sean, witness the abduction of their buddy Dave. Flash-forward many years, and we find that the three friends are married and living in the same area. Jimmy has done time in prison, but has reformed himself and lives with a large family. Sean has become a police officer. Dave, unfortunately, never fully recovered from his kidnapping experience, and has become an emotionally unstable man. Jimmy's daughter Katie suddenly turns up murdered, and thus begins a drama as Jimmy seeks vengeance for the murder, Sean attempts to find the killer with his partner Sgt. Powers, and Dave becomes a suspect when he returns home the night of the murder covered in his and someone else's blood.

First, the good about the film. Unlike so many other films that throw non-stop depressing situations at its characters, director Eastwood is much more disciplined. Since he seems to understand that being depressing is 1) the easiest thing to pull off and 2) non-stop depression becomes boring quickly, he has given the movie a slow pace that makes the rather heavy incidents come off as interesting and worthy of an audiences' involvement. Eastwood has scenes of powerful dramatic impact, which he then follows with lighter scenes usually involving Sean and Sgt. Powers. The scene transitions between the lighter scenes and the extremely dark scenes are beautifully handled, and one definite positive one can say about Mystic River is that it never suffers from tone problems.

For the first half of the movie, Eastwood paces the movie deliberately, though not to the extent where an audience member would become bored. His set-up of the material is first-rate. His choices of particular shots and scene executions effortlessly draw us into the story, and keep us locked within. Even an emotionally wrecked Jimmy screaming to the heavens when realising that his daughter has died is powerful. Eastwood obviously loves actors, and he photographs every scene here in a way that makes us subtly effected by the choice of the camera movements or angles, rather than noticing the camerabatics first and foremost.

Every actor here is at the top of his/her game. Even the supporting parts have a life to them. Sean Penn gives a strong, intense performance. So many scenes could have easily dissolved into endless shouting from his character, though we can tell that he has the discipline not to do this. Penn starts immediately with the character instead of himself, and essential becomes a vessel for the aggravated Jimmy. It's easily some of his best work. Just as good is Kevin Bacon. Always an entertaining and gifted actor, Bacon jumps into his role with a calm ease that never distracts. He downplays his role perfectly, and even injects a wonderful charm into his performance that never seems cocky or self-aware.

In the supporting roles, we have some fantastic work. Laurence Fishburne provides entertainment value as Sgt. Powers. He knows that his role is meant to be the comic relief of sorts, so he makes sure that the mood is lightened effectively when he is in a scene. Yet, during the more serious moments where his character is present, he knows to turn this off so as not to cause an audience to be thrown off by a tonal shift. Laura Linney, an actor of amazing talent, gives a great performance as Annabeth, Jimmy's wife. Even though her role is minor, she still plays it convincingly. She even manages to lift a horrible scene near the end of the film up a notch, because she actually manages to make the ridiculous dialogue in that moment more than it is. Finally, Tim Robbins deserves all the praise he can get for his role as Dave. His performance is almost sublime. For most of the movie, I'd forgotten it was Tim Robbins. His sense of control is incredible, and he draws the audience in constantly even threw his body language. It's incredible to watch.

Some individual moments in the film hit home as well. In the beginning of the movie, a moment in which Jimmy, Dave and Sean lose a ball down a manhole serves as a melancholy reminder of the loss of childhood innocence. Later in the film, a moment when Dave refuses to help his son search for the many balls the three friends lost down the manhole also resonates. Essentially, Dave lost his innocence around the same time the ball was lost, and him almost afraid of finding it again, or maybe even him being unable to find it again, is very affecting. Also, Dave seems to be a sad reminder that a world during and after childhood is a frightening thing; that Dave never seemed to have been able to accept that darkness is what leads him to his ultimate fate of living without a real life. Jimmy and Sean are other reminders. Sean has become cynical about life, still a child inside a man's body, though what we may see if a child knew what an adult knows. With this theme in place throughout, the fact that Jimmy's daughter was only nineteen at the time of her death, resonates with an even larger emotional impact when we know that she experienced the dark side of life without ever having a chance to really know it existed. When we see who her killers turn out to be, we see how innocence can be easily broken, and that is what makes the fisrt half of the movie truly tragic and meaningful.

That's where my praise ends. Eastwood makes a fatal mistake when it comes to the who-done-it aspect of the story. As soon as we enter that part of the film, we immediately hear a voice-over 911 call. The fact that one can recognise that the voice is that of a young child's should be obvious to anyone. The even more obvious fact that Eastwood chooses to omit two very specific characters for most of the movie should have anyone guessing the identity of the murderer as soon as he/she appears onscreen. That's a bad thing to do, especially considering that one can guess this even before the first hour of the movie is up. With another hour to go, with many scenes devoted to finding the killer, the audience is way too far ahead of the characters to stay emotionally invested in the story. We become bored, and quite frankly surprised at how clumsy things are being handled.

Eastwood's direction also begins to falter. The second half of the movie is too laid back to get our tempo moving. Eastwood sticks with his laid-back style even at the point when the movie really needs to be building intensity. Because his style is so calm, reminding actually of Sofia Coppola's direction in Lost in Translation, the audience almost starts becoming sleepy while all the plot points are unfolding. There's just no drive; at this point, Eastwood doesn't do enough with the camerabatics and the editing to keep us interested. Staying involved with the characters and story becomes a chore. You'll be desperate for this one hundred and thirty minute beast to end as fast as possible. The fact that it is also about fifteen minutes too long certainly doesn't help.

The screenplay by Brian Helgeland is extremely flawed. There are many plots and subplots going on in this film, and it seems that more simplicity really would have helped in this case. If some of the plots were dropped, this could have been a much leaner, and much better film. In the mean time, we have some real stinkers in terms of poorly developed scenes. For example, when Jimmy vows revenge on his daughter's killer, we then leave this subplot entirely. Then, we are re-united much later on in the film when Jimmy gets an update from his buddies that they have gotten nowhere. However, the police have made lots of progress in the case, so not only is the lack of development in that subplot distracting and very annoying, but it's also pointless. Another subplot that also should have been jettisoned is the one involving Sean's wife. We learn that she left Sean, and yet still calls him almost every day. However, she says nothing, and Sean is only met with dead air. The symbolism here is so obvious, it's almost insulting. Plus, Eastwood's choice to never show her face just comes off as extremely silly: like Alfred Hitchcock with fifty percent less IQ, actually. It's a Silence of the Lambs-type situation. Sean must solve the case in order to redeem himself and his personal problems. Once the case is solved, surprise, Sean's wife speaks to him and returns to his side. Heh.

Then, we have the off-putting out of character moments. During an interrogation scene, Dave suddenly speaks out against his friend in a very confident manner, which completely betrays his set-up as an introverted, psychologically unstable man. He becomes extremely defensive when others confront him with accusations, and yet in this interrogation scene, he is perfectly composed. The only hint of the Dave we knew before is his voice. This change of character only seems clumsily inserted for no reason at all. That no one caught this shows that this film was probably a rush job. Also, Jimmy's character is extremely flawed. For most of the film, he wants to find his daughter's killer, and his careful character is completely betrayed come the conclusion. Basically, he goes off the word of one person who isn't even one hundred percent sure, and confronts his best friend Dave with accusations of murder. He also intends on doing something even more sinister to Dave. Huh? I find that extremely hard to believe.

Suspension of disbelief is something I always carry into the cinema with me. It's helped me get through a lot of films. However, suspension of disbelief doesn't really apply to Mystic River, because from the style and execution of the material, we know it's supposed to be taken as a thriller that represents real life. Thus, some things in the movie really stretch credibility. For one thing, get this: Sean and Sgt. Powers conveniently forget about the 911 tape. They both assumed that the other had listened to it. Clumsy. But then get this: the answer that breaks the case wide open is on that tape. Essentially, there would have been no movie if that extremely convenient plot point wasn't in the film. The actual execution of that scene doesn't even try to hide the fact that it's using extreme convenience to push the film along when it hadn't done that before. Sample dialogue: "What's on the 911 tape?" 'I thought you'd listened to it.' "I thought you had." Makes me want to vomit, honestly.

Then, some other nagging questions begin to pop up. How come, when Dave is the prime suspect, they never give him a lie detector test, and yet they put Brendan Harris, a secondary suspect, through one earlier in the film? What are the odds that the body of a pedophile that was put in Dave's trunk had the exact same blood type as Jimmy's daughter, conveniently making Dave a prime suspect? In fact, Dave is nothing but one Heck of an obvious red herring throughout the entire film. That immediately doesn't work, because Dave is in the foreground as a suspect so much, that it couldn't possibly be him. However, the movie puts him in that spotlight for nearly its entire running time, and we're already aware, just because we can figure things out for ourselves based on the other plot elements, that he isn't the murderer. The fact that he kills a pedophile the same night as the murder, around the exact same time, is hard enough to swallow; yet when that pedophile's body is only found after Jimmy has gone through with his revenge just shows that the filmmakers wanted to provide a "shocking" (read: dramatically obvious) conclusion for the characters above actually thinking the material through in intelligent ways. Finally, Sean not doing anything about what Jimmy does in the end completely goes against his character as well. Jeez, and this film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Hell, whether you believe it in or not, must be freezing over at this point.

I will admit that I was slightly impressed by Tom Stern's cinematography, yet most of the movie is shot with huge shadows engulfing almost everything in the frame. Any scene taking place at night in the movie requires night vision goggles, for crying out loud. Plus, the visuals are quite distracting. This is a film that is supposed to represent gritty reality. However, just like Curtis Hanson's horrifically awful 8 Mile, that sense of gritty reality is constantly undermined by the overly glossy cinematography. Stern employs that high-contrast, deep-shadow look that has become inexplicably popular these days. While not being as horrible as the high-contrast photography in Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, it comes pretty close. Sometimes, the extreme whites in the image will even hurt your eyes and cause you to squint. There are only a few moments when I found myself buying into the visual look. One has a highlight of white shining across Dave's face while he is telling his son a story of a boy escaping from wolves. That was a haunting moment. Anytime the camera pans up to a highly-contrasted sky...well, I nearly went blind. Extremely disappointing, and let's hope Eastwood doesn't continue to buy into this look come his following films.

The editing by Joel Cox is pretty good, for the most part. There are smooth transitions throughout, and most of the scenes don't appear too choppy. However, there are some sequences where the editing really starts to show. During Dave's interrogation, one is aware of every single cut. Either Cox cuts too slowly from character to character, or he cuts too fast. Either way, it takes away from the scene. Then, there are the moments when Dave's reckoning at the hands of Jimmy are inter-cut with the killer being taken down. Every time we cut away from those scenes, we lose interest in the scene we were just watching. We also notice that following the laws of time really wasn't on Cox's mind when he cut the conclusion, and that means we are constantly distracted. However, despite these moments, the cutting is pretty sharp, yet we can usually see faint scissor marks in the image at times, almost indicating a rush job. Not enough to completely wreck the film, though still enough to distract in spots.

Clint Eastwood composed the score for the film himself. It is awful. The music is off-putting wherever it's used. When Jimmy yells about his daughter's death, overly sappy music (that actually sounds happy for some reason) fills our ears, and completely shatters the emotion of the scene. It's almost a blessing that Eastwood decided to use so little of his music throughout the film, because what he does it for essentially ruins whatever it's supposed to be complementing. Horrific work that I hope never makes it to CD racks, because that would be like listening to a screeching, wet cat for two hours.

Mystic River is an extremely clumsy film. It had me interested in the proceedings for a while, and yet that was completely ruined when all the plot stupidities and extreme contrivances reared their ugly heads. Director Eastwood must have fallen asleep while helming the second half, because it feels lazy, and there isn't a smidgen of tension to be found. The performances are excellent, which did keep me watching until the end. However, if it weren't for the performances, the movie wouldn't even play on HBO. This film is, sadly, a river that I never want to have to swim in again.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8240&reviewer=355
originally posted: 01/13/05 15:18:32
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good & haunting film 4 stars
9/11/15 misterfilms poor films. i'm glad Academy gave LOTR Best Picture 1 stars
1/25/14 Simon Sleek direction& raw acting, but too deliberate&muddled. Awful end w/Linney's 'king' speech 3 stars
2/25/12 brian poor cinema tography, crap screenplay. disjointed,over dramatic Penn. .need i say more 2 stars
12/29/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Great movie by a great director. 5 stars
11/20/09 Jeff Wilder Eastwood's best film as a director. 5 stars
10/01/08 PAUL SHORTT SHOWS YOU CAN PILE ON A LOT OF FREIGHT AND STILL END UP WITH A BARGE 2 stars
9/28/07 mr.mike good mystery/thriller. Robbins is a stand-out. 4 stars
9/08/06 Thomas Semesky Predictable. There are better movies from 2003 worth seeing. 3 stars
8/26/06 cpbjr very good 4 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley The more you see it, the more artificiality becomes apparent. Still packs a punch though. 4 stars
1/01/06 Tanya Sean penn is always great in his movies 4 stars
12/21/05 Carolyn Rathburn Very deep movie, impressed with Penn's performance 4 stars
12/09/05 Frank Rountree This movie was a disappointment, it didn't live up to it's billing 2 stars
9/21/05 Indrid Cold Seems like the point is to give Penn scenes where he can cry and show off his chops. 3 stars
9/13/05 ray mero Mystic seems a mighty muddy river and movie. 1 stars
9/10/05 Alex what a stupid idea! and should i move out of boston? 1 stars
8/19/05 ES Good movie, no idea what it was trying to say at the very end 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Penn as Brando-not, overacted,over praised,just over. 3 stars
7/11/05 Brian Feiler Impossible to ignore the fine performances of sean penn and tim robbins in this one. 5 stars
6/23/05 sally angwin everything that clint touches turns to gold 4 stars
6/13/05 Charlene Javier Hated it the first time. Loved loved loved it the second time. 5 stars
6/09/05 Agent Sands such a great movie. One of the biggest stand-outs of Clint's career. 5 stars
3/26/05 Denise great 4 stars
3/24/05 Michael Lloyd a very emotional film, shouldve won best picture 5 stars
3/19/05 Messina Great movie if you like being hit over the head. 1 stars
3/03/05 jeff very predictble, nothing special. 3 stars
2/17/05 Daveman Superbly acted with muscular direction from Eastwood, lacked dramatic cohesion though. 4 stars
2/12/05 Aimee Shelton Very intense and well-acted. Superb film-making! 5 stars
2/05/05 Susan Chamberlain I kept watching even though I didn't want to. 4 stars
2/02/05 Alice Colwell Good movie 5 stars
2/01/05 Danita Berg yuck...still can't figure out what the hype is about. 2 stars
2/01/05 Christy Harris Very "who done it?" loved trying to figure out 5 stars
1/30/05 Frank Tells good movie 4 stars
1/30/05 Christine An excellent movie and the acting was first-rate 5 stars
1/29/05 Carolyn Rathburn This film was too intense for me, well acted, but not my cup of tea. 4 stars
1/16/05 Charlene Javier Loved it the second time around! 4 stars
1/14/05 Barry Taylor It was a good movie with a twist at the end but nothing special 3 stars
1/07/05 ewen Brilliant! 5 stars
12/31/04 Tjalda L. Schiel Over acted, over rated clap trap. 2 stars
12/27/04 juliana sadock savino bravo to eastwood for the score. it was at once unobtrusive & essential 5 stars
12/22/04 Michael OConnor Phenomenal Acting!!! 5 stars
12/15/04 PHIL M. AFICIONADO Riveting and moody, with a sad story to tell through excellent acting 5 stars
12/12/04 Landshark A parade of irony, hypocrisy & fate? Nope, just sound & fury signifying nothing. 3 stars
11/24/04 Geoff Brilliant movie. Great direction by Eastwood (musical score too) and performances from all 5 stars
11/23/04 Carly Austin Sean Penn is brilliant, as is every aspect of this movie. Watch Marcia Gay Harden too. 5 stars
11/12/04 jellica sean is really increadable 5 stars
11/01/04 shell Sean Penn was good, as ever, but this is a seriously flawed movie. Murray was ROBBED. 3 stars
9/27/04 alicia left me breathless 5 stars
9/14/04 R. Block Worst part: why throw in that scene w/ Penn IDing his daughter's body? Trite. 4 stars
8/16/04 Peter James Proves in a way that A Beautiful Mind did that great acting can make a movie amazing 5 stars
8/05/04 Chris a truly remarkable film. acting was amazing and story was powerful and emotional.very good 5 stars
8/04/04 ownerofdajoint PENN GIVES AN INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE.MOVIE SHOWS HOW SOME ARE DOOMED FROM THE GET-GO! 5 stars
7/28/04 Mike Devans very well done. 4 stars
7/23/04 Jannet Kwan This is a somewhat confusing movie. 3 stars
7/20/04 Harry J No story? Pay attention. Almost awesome. A really good story. 4 stars
7/15/04 Joe Smaltz good acting no story 2 stars
7/15/04 Glen Dean I didn't like the way Jimmy gets away with murder. 2 stars
7/12/04 Monster W. Kung Overrated crud. Good acting doesn't make up for muddled plot and loathsome 'moral'. 2 stars
7/11/04 Phil M. Aficionado EricDSnider speaks for me on this one; and, really really good acting is the key. 4 stars
7/08/04 JME No car crashes? Oh yeah, this isn't typical Hollywood schlock. 5 stars
7/08/04 Denise great plot 5 stars
6/29/04 Len Good movie worth watching 5 stars
6/26/04 Alex Robbins is superb, Penn is woefully overacting. All too dark to be worth a go 2 stars
6/21/04 Dick Logan Really good, Clint done good!! Very depressing though. 5 stars
6/20/04 elizaveta mesmerizing performances, truly surprising in the outcome, all too human 5 stars
6/13/04 Kooler Sloppy storytelling, & Penn nearly chokes on the scenery. Death to method actors! 3 stars
6/12/04 Shawn Great movie. Makes you think. 5 stars
6/11/04 Butterbean Climax was unnecessarily long. Screw Penn, Robbins outshine everyone. 4 stars
4/10/04 Vince Chan Excellent acting, plot was a bit thin in some spots.. long movie! 4 stars
4/08/04 jscrapple huge holes in the plot and nonsensical ending 2 stars
3/24/04 Chloe Brody This was fucking awesome - Penn finally got an Oscar that he really deserves... 5 stars
3/10/04 brett this movie blows. it left me wondering why i spent money on it 2 stars
3/09/04 Blaine Holloway oh yes im getting that!!!!! 2003: 3rd only to return of the king and last samurai! 5 stars
3/09/04 Wendranh Sean Penn...grown up 4 stars
3/07/04 C. Hernandez Not that great. Kevin Bacon's personal storyline seemed like an afterthought. 3 stars
3/07/04 movieboy Awesome the acting made this movie and what a intersting plot had me guessing to the end 5 stars
2/24/04 rhett the acting was so bad, if i wasn't with my girlfriend i would have left half way through 2 stars
2/23/04 Christopher Klejdys Man, I liked this movie...but the last 15 munutes were a disaster. 4 stars
2/12/04 Obi Wan Over-rated Penn Oscar talks for his IAS Snub...ending felt rushed...wait for Rental 3 stars
2/08/04 Gretchen Seitz Ray Jr. didn't kill Kate! He was covering for his creepy mama! Otherwise awesome. 4 stars
2/03/04 Jin Borrows heavily from Sleepers and In the Bedroom; both are better. 4 stars
1/30/04 timothy briant 2 star film with 5 star actors ,dissapointing quick ending for such an intricate plot . 2 stars
1/30/04 Seb Sloppy: dad and son play wiffle ball in a yard that's about 5 feet long. Duh. 2 stars
1/25/04 124 should win many academy awards 5 stars
1/24/04 vikram the master at work again 5 stars
1/23/04 Chloe Brody Wow! Sean Penn gets more amazing with each film! 5 stars
1/16/04 Ralph R. Clemente Great film and great acting. Bravo Mr. Eastwood 5 stars
1/09/04 Matt Fairly ok up until the truly awful ending. Trite and forced and consequently harms the film 3 stars
1/03/04 Admiral Piett Sean Penn sucks donkey balls. 1 stars
1/03/04 A F Ending dragged too long. I liked most of it, but you need to know when you should END! 4 stars
12/30/03 ownerofdajoint one of the greatest movies in the last ten years;don't miss it! 5 stars
12/30/03 Chlo This movie was so fucking brilliant...tell me - why hasn't Sean Penn won an Oscar yet? 5 stars
12/21/03 jj yes 5 stars
12/16/03 Buck Neilson incongruous 1 stars
12/13/03 G.W.B (lets bomb the world) JNR Go ahead make my day. Oh you just did!! 5 stars
12/09/03 Agent Sands Impressively shot, with great acting, strong, tight directing, good music, & good writing. 5 stars
12/07/03 admiral piett Sean Penn is in it. Enough said. 1 stars
11/29/03 DM Why do we let retards like Edler onto this site? 4 stars
11/29/03 jeff get real! it's an excellent film 5 stars
11/26/03 Fern Jones Brilliant 5 stars
11/23/03 John Bale Eastwood's film masterpiece with superb cast and craftmanship 5 stars
11/20/03 Helen Bradley Great script, pace,actors & directing 5 stars
11/20/03 boxcar anyone who didnt like this movie sucks 5 stars
11/19/03 Edler Sucked shit out of a baboon's ass. 2 stars
11/14/03 Sean Movie Critic Predictable, Long....but overall good story behind it. 4 stars
11/13/03 ownerofdajoint this is truly an awesome movie 5 stars
11/11/03 Jod Forget "Bridges of Madison County", Eastwood directs a masterpiece. 5 stars
11/07/03 Cameron Slick The strongest film of the year with several amazing performances, quite a perplexing film. 5 stars
11/04/03 John I want my money back 1 stars
11/03/03 Suzz Overrated. I read the book; film lacked power and surprise. 3 stars
11/03/03 malcolm Penn does his best DeNiro; what a cast! 3 stars
11/03/03 carly seen "sleepers" much? this has all been done before. total pap bullshit. 2 stars
11/03/03 Doc Terrible. A full hour too long; terrible editing; flat characters; SLOW, DULL, BORING! 1 stars
10/30/03 melvyn masterful....well cast...psychological depth. 5 stars
10/27/03 Brent Great fillm, a must see for film lovers 5 stars
10/27/03 Edler Dumb story. Lots of pretentious scenes. Resolution of the mystery bites. 3 stars
10/26/03 Heather Drowning in Grief and Murky Waters 2 stars
10/21/03 Will Oscar worthy effort, Great acting and taulty directed. 5 stars
10/21/03 Grzmlyk Most overrated acting and direction since "Philadelphia." Not one believeable moment. 1 stars
10/21/03 David Great Show, here's to more films with unanswered questions when the lights come up! 4 stars
10/20/03 Vince Yeah. 3 stars
10/20/03 blue i loved it 5 stars
10/20/03 R.W. Welch Expert direction and acting. Plot line has a couple weak spots. 4 stars
10/19/03 Graham Film of the year so far 5 stars
10/19/03 john wonderful acting and story without the pat, trite stuff ya sometimes see in 'who done its' 5 stars
10/18/03 Nunzeo aweful. people actually got up and left. major disappointment 1 stars
10/16/03 Justin C. Ayd This picture had absolute perfect direction, the acting, it was amazing. 5 stars
10/16/03 lycan better than Blood Work, but then, most movies are... 3 stars
10/11/03 Wendy Read the book and it was phenomenal. See the movie. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Oct-2003 (R)
  DVD: 08-Jun-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  20-Nov-2003




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