“A River Runs Through It” Is a Good Film With a Bad Message That Develops Slowly
A River Runs Through It – 3 Stars (Good)
A River Runs Through It is based on a true story about the relationships in a family of two brothers with a Presbyterian minister for a father, a love for fly fishing they all enjoy, and a fall fly fishing Missoula stay-at-home mom.
One brother-Norman Maclean (Craig Sheffer)-is good and grounded, and the other brother-Paul Maclean (Brad Pitt)-makes a lot of bad choices and pays for it in the end. They grow up in the beautiful wilderness of Montana after World War 1 and before the Great Depression.
Norman and Paul are pretty much the same before Norman goes to Dartmouth for six years and returns to become a teacher. Paul is a rebel at heart, a college graduate, a newspaper reporter, and a lover of liquor, gambling and women. Paul plays a lot of poker, plays on borrowed money, bets with losing hands and does not pay his debts to his card-playing creditors. His creditors have a limited tolerance for his indiscretions.
The film opens with Norman as an old man fly fishing by the river, cogitating on the life he has lived, recounting what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and why he felt helpless to change his brother’s ultimate destiny.
In the end, Norman says “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”
This movie is a guy’s film if for no other reason than it is without doubt the greatest movie on fly fishing ever filmed. The scenes of the river are spectacular, and the scenery even more spectacular.
A River Runs Through It won an Oscar for Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography. You will not see better cinematography about fly fishing anywhere. The movie says they are fly fishing on the Blackfoot River near Missoula, but the filming was done on the Boulder River about 270 miles east of Missoula.
Mark Isham’s original musical score and Richard Friedenberg’s screenplay were both nominated for Oscars. Even director Robert Redford picked up a Golden Globe nomination as Best Director.
The real Norman Maclean wrote the story about his family that became the film. Redford spent years trying to gain the rights to Maclean’s autobiographical novella. There is much to recommend A River Runs Through It and at least two drawbacks to enjoying the story and the scenery.
First is the depressing helplessness of Paul’s family to reach him emotionally and turn his life around. This forces us to watch a depressing story with a terrible ending.
Second is that you may go to sleep waiting for something to happen as the story develops slower than molasses sliding off of a stick.
Ultimately we are presented with Paul’s warped values as he slowly and willfully self-destructs. All of the truly wonderful fly-fishing adventures do not offset the destructiveness of the script’s end result.
This is a good movie but who wants to be part of its depressing message? I ask myself, am I a better person for having seen A River Runs Through It? No, I am not. This film is a story that focuses on warped values and teaches us little about what is really important in life (hint: it is not fly fishing).