A River Runs Through It (1992)

Review by Jenn

With so many great movies to choose from, it was tough trying to decide which to recommend first. Since this one is so high on my husband's list of favorite films and we have recently given it another whirl in the old VCR, I have opted to begin with Columbia Picture's A River Runs Through It, a film based on the Pulitzer-nominated book by Norman Maclean.

Narrated by Robert Redford (who also directed and produced), the movie tells the story of Norman and Paul Maclean (Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt), sons of a Scottish Presbyterian minister growing up in turn-of-the-century western Montana. "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing..." says Norman, and indeed the Reverend Maclean (played by Tom Skerrit) spends at least as much time instructing his sons in the art of fly fishing as he does instructing them "in all other spiritual matters." Maclean is a good fisherman - and so becomes Norman in time - but it is Paul, the younger brother, who surpasses them both and steps away from them into the coveted realm of artistry.

But this is not a story about religion. It is not even a story about fly fishing, though some might argue that point. The story is about love - and, more specifically, about that kind of unconditional love which by necessity must exist between family members, if the family is to survive, when one of them eludes understanding.

"It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us," says the older Norman Maclean. The young Norman, newly returned to Montana after six years at a prestigious Eastern college, finds he no longer has anything in common with his brother - except, of course, fly fishing. And not even that, at first - Norman has not touched a rod in the six years he had been away, "while Paul had become a master." But it's a start - as Norman spends the summer working for the Forestry Service, waiting to hear from the Universities to which he has applied for a teaching appointment, and courting his girlfriend, Jessie (Emily Lloyd), he re-learns his father's art as well as to admire his brother's artistry. He also learns to meet his brother as a person again on the shores of the majestic Blackfoot River.

But it is only on the river that they can truly meet. In the real world, Paul, a newspaper reporter, is also a compulsive gambler, in well over his head, who takes part in high-stakes poker games frequented by men twice his age. Distracted by his own affairs and unsure how to help, Norman reluctantly joins his mystified, troubled parents in their mutual admiration of and concern for the reckless young man who yet embodies an intangible beauty that manifests itself so well in the Montana forests, and so inadequately in "real life."

This is quite a beautiful movie - literally. Filmed on location in western Montana, the scenery and cinematography is truly breathtaking. It is a film that moves like the river in it's name - flowing along easily, and seeming to take up less time than it does. This is one of those movies Steve and I call "life" movies; there is no fierce action (though I admit being almost on the edge of my seat once or twice during a couple of the fishing scenes - really!); mostly a drama with some light comedy to break the tension now and then. Mainly it is a film that makes one think and feel.

The actors do a nice job. I sometimes think that Brad Pitt is a better actor than he is reputed to be - his pretty looks are a drawback, I think, when it comes to getting respect for good roles; a problem he shares with Tom Cruise. Tom Skerrit's restrained performance as a loving but undemonstrative father is quite believable, and Craig Sheffer, though he has not so many lines, conveys great feeling.

If you're in a more contemplative mood, A River Runs Through It is a good film to see. It may make you examine your own family relationships, or even your friendships, to a greater depth. I think most of us have known someone like Paul at one time or another.