Monday, May 18, 2009

A River Runs Through It (1992) [PG] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli.

Watching A River Runs Through It is a little like leafing through an old photograph album. It conjures up feelings and images, many of them bittersweet, and all of them nostalgic. This is one of those motion pictures that truly transports you to another time and another place.

A River Runs Through It is a simple story about a typical, early-twentieth century Montana family. It traces the lives of two brothers from boyhood to adulthood. Water -- and a river in particular -- is an important symbol for the twisting, rocky path of life, and it's never far from any scene. In fact, this may be a case of imagery being too obvious.

The two main characters, Norman and Paul Maclean, are portrayed by a pair of up-and-coming young actors, Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt (from Thelma and Louise and the too-cool Johnny Suede). Tom Skerritt, as the boys' father, and Emily Lloyd, as Norman's girlfriend, lead a team of equally-solid supporting players. Skerritt especially has a daunting job, which he carries off with aplomb: showing the loving, caring man beneath the stiff, Puritanical preacher's facade.

The cinematography (by Philippe Rousselot) is on par with the best of the year. This is a beautifully-shot film, and director Robert Redford (who also provides the voice-over narration) has paid painstaking attention to detail. The subtle humor is unforced and character-based. One of the best elements of A River Runs Through It is the effectively understated romance that develops. This has the feel of something genuine: sweet, touching, and sentimental. In that way, it is much like the movie as a whole.

A River Runs Through It avoids manipulating the audience's emotions, even though it has numerous chances to do so. Events happen; they aren't forced on us. Through this straightforward method of storytelling, the impact is strengthened. A River Runs Through It is a fine motion picture and, if it's a little slow in parts (especially the beginning), those moments are worth sitting through to experience the rest.

Label: drama, sport