Sunday, September 13, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The River (1984) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The fall and winter of 1984 saw the release of two major films about struggling modern-day farmers.

COUNTRY (1984), starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, was released in September, followed by THE RIVER in December. I saw both films on their initial release, and I've now revisited both on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber.

In 2018 Kino Lorber released COUNTRY, which was reviewed by me here, and the company has now also recently released THE RIVER.

Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek star as Tom and Mae Garvey, who work on a farm which has been in Tom's family for generations. It's a rough life for the Garveys and their children Lewis (Shane Bailey) and Beth (Becky Jo Lynch), especially as the nearby river is occasionally prone to flooding their land during bad rainstorms, but they're determined to make a go of it.

Tom, in particular, is adamant about not selling out to Joe Wade (Scott Glenn), who wants to flood Tom's land and build a dam. The fact that Joe and Mae were a long-ago item before she married Tom doesn't make Tom any more likely to want to sell to Joe, but he's also passionate about working the land. When Tom briefly takes a job working as a scab during a factory strike in order to pay the bills, he finds working inside the hot, noisy factory suffocating and desperately misses his family.

Like COUNTRY, THE RIVER isn't always an easy watch, although at this particular time I admit there was something oddly comforting in watching a family having a worse time than we've had this challenging year. It made living through lockdowns look easy by comparison.

I love the depiction of the Garveys' daily life; one of my favorite scenes was Mae multitasking in the kitchen, baking bread and teaching her young daughter to make a pie crust. I would have loved to be able to walk around that kitchen set in person and look at all the details.

Gibson is good, although I confess he was so handsome it was almost distracting! That said, he was able to communicate a great deal nonverbally and was moving in the role. Spacek was luminous, and although she is several years older than Gibson in real life, she pulls off playing a younger woman who's his contemporary age-wise.

Glenn is always an actor I'm glad to see turn up in a movie, and he's quite interesting here as someone who's a determined businessman, but perhaps not really a bad person -- although making a play to get Mae back late in the film crossed a line.

There are moments the film veers off track -- did the plant foreman have to be quite so cartoonishly nasty? -- and it could have shed a few of its 124 minutes, but on the whole it's a good film, and frankly better than I remembered it. I had felt at the time that COUNTRY was the better movie of the two, but having seen them both again I think they're about on a par with one another.

I liked the fact that the film had an upbeat but ambiguous ending; it seemed realistic yet didn't leave the viewer depressed when it came to an end.

THE RIVER was directed by Mark Rydell and beautifully filmed by Vilmos Zsigmond. It also has a fine score by John Williams.

Williams was nominated for the Oscar for THE RIVER along with Spacek, Zsigmond, and the sound team. Ironically, Spacek was up against Jessica Lange for Best Actress, but the winner was Sally Field for the Depression-era farm film PLACES IN THE HEART (1984).

Parental Advisory: This film is labeled PG-13. There is limited swearing and a tasteful love scene, as well as a bloody injury working on farm equipment; for the most part, though, it's pretty tame as PG-13 movies go.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is an excellent widescreen print. The disc includes a commentary track by Daniel Kremer, the trailer, and three additional trailers for films available from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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