Studio: Universal Studios
US Rating: PG-13
Film Length: 124 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Plus, French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0
Subtitles: Optional English SDH and French subtitles
The Film - out of
In the disappearing safety of the American farmland, Tom and Mae Garvey, with their two young children, struggle to hold on to their livelihood as both nature and man seek to affect enough disheartenment upon them to have them fold up and move on. With their farm frequently ravaged by the torrents of unforgiving rains and the cresting river that spills as a result, times are hard.
When Joe Wade (Scott Glenn), a town business owner and former love interest to Mae Garvey, pushes forward with plans to flood the valley where the Garvey’s have their home and farm, they choose to dig in their heels and fight. But as much as they have the passion to stand their ground, the maliciousness of Wade’s greed and the harshness of the failing farm life take their toll.
Director Mark Rydell (The Cowboys) shows a genuine strength tackling the plight of the American Farmer in the early 1980’s. Scenes of the hard work and hard life are reminiscent of the great depression with the homeless and jobless floating on the surface of American life. Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek star as the Garvey’s, a simple and extremely hardworking family dealing with the misfortunes that nature and man has dealt them with a somber practicality and a rolling-up-the-sleeves mentality. Set during the beginning of a great migration away from the traditional American farm-life, The River is a story about people, their lives and the effect of life’s downturns. It is a story of determination, not in the heroic sense, but in the vein of having no other choice. Gibson and Spacek both deliver solid performances, with Spacek really standing out. They manage to convey the stubbornness and occasional necessity of pride that speaks to a fight for something more than just keeping the flood waters or the greed of man at bay. This is a fight for a dying way of life, for a stability and set of traditions that existed for generations before.
Scott Glenn as Joe Wade, is every bit as unlikable as you can imagine. He is a selfish, ego driven and greedy man that is painted a little broad as the ‘bad guy’. But he does fill the role of the antagonist suitably. His character also provides the catalyst for the contrasting ways of life, with his ‘shiny new’ jeep and arrogance, he represents the ‘haves’ versus a town filled mostly with the ‘have-not’s’, eventually becoming the symbol for the takers against those that are taken from.
The pacing of this film is slow, mirroring in many ways the pace of the farm life and though that can serve the story at times, it actually makes for some unevenness; with bursts of action (a fist fight or the opening fight to stave off the flooding river) becoming stark peaks compared to the general flow of the rest of the film.
Rydell shoots a lovely picture here, complimented by the able Vilmos Zsigmond, Director of Photography (Deer Hunter), giving us a film that maintains an authentic beauty, capturing the decay of America’s farmland but also showing a warmth and peacefulness to this way of life.
It is difficult not to care about this family, something that is especially apparent during one the of the films tense scenes, where Mae Garvey, working the fields alone as the children are at school and her husband is working away from home, becomes trapped under the tractor. It is not a traditionally dramatic scene, but rather an understated, patient and realistic moment that works very well.
Another intriguing and very well executed scene involves a deer at the metal plant where Tom Garvey has gone to work, during a strike. It is a surprising and restrained scene that stands out.
The colors are well defined, the daylight scenes feel natural and the dirty and dusty way of life is represented well.
Overall I was satisfied with the picture quality of this release.
Since most of the film is paced rather slowly, where the simplicity of a scene is allowed to tell the story, the lost opportunity in the other scenes doesn’t sink the experience, but even still, a disappointment.
The cast is fine, with Gibson competently pulling off a southern accent and mannerisms and Spacek evoking the spirit of the hardworking woman extremely well. Even the young actors playing the Garvey children (Shane Bailey and Becky Jo Lynch) are very good.
This is a fine film that I am sure has never looked this good in your home. While the audio was underwhelming and the extras non-existent, it is still worth your time to spend a couple of hours with the Garveys, to watch them fight the good fight and to listen to another exemplary score from the legendary John Williams.