Movie Reviews

Blu-Ray Review: “A River Runs Through It”

(Sony. 1992/2009. Rated PG for momentary nudity and some language in a family drama. 2 hours, 3 minutes. Directed and narrated by Robert Redford.) Craig Sheffer (Norman Maclean), Brad Pitt (Paul Maclean), Tom Skerritt (Rev. Maclean), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Maclean), Emily Lloyd (Jessie Burns), Edie McClurg (Mrs. Burns), Stephen Shellen (Neal Burns), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Young Norman), Vann Gravage (Young Paul), Susan Traylor (Rawhide). Music by Mark Isham.

Lovely, lyrical film version of the memoir by Norman Maclean, written when he was 70, about his growing-up years with his parents and brother in post-World-War-I Montana. The famous first line of the book is repeated by Redford’s narrator: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” I like this movie more every time I see it. At first glance, one could characterize older son Norman as the “good” one and Paul as the “bad” but that would be too facile. As every young man must do, both have to sort out their place in life, not so easy when your father is a strict Presbyterian Scot and the town’s minister. Sheffer (the more experienced actor at this point, who got first billing) and the reliable Skerritt give solid performances. So does Pitt in his first significant early role, although I didn’t really see the dark streak his character was supposed to have. But that didn’t matter too much: even Skerritt’s Reverend would call his younger son “beautiful.”

British actress Emily Lloyd is charming as Norman’s love interest. Jessie too is searching for her place in the first defining period of change for women in the 20th century, the 1920’s “flapper” era of bobbed hair, rolled stockings, and women smoking! Comedy is provided by Jessie’s spoiled, blustering brother Neal when he makes the acquaintance of the local prostitute “Rawhide.” Big themes are touched on here: war, religion, sex, music, race (Paul causes a stir with his Indian lover; even speakeasies have house rules). However, the screenplay, and Redford’s direction, don’t hit you over the head with anything; the movie allows you to come to it in a measured and thoughtful way. Beautiful Montana scenery by Philippe Rousselot (who won the movie’s only Oscar); atmospheric, non-intrusive score by Mark Isham (hired after Redford rejected Elmer Bernstein’s first pass at the music). Blu-ray edition includes a 32-page souvenir book, plus featurettes and deleted scenes. Definitely worth taking another trip on this river; don’t forget your rod and reel.

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