Mon 29 Jan 2007
324.D: A River Runs Through It, widescreen, stereo, 1993
Since his first directing venture, ominously-entitled ‘Ordinary People,’ Robert Redford has been pitching for an imagined mainstream, middle-American, family-oriented audience of the kind which everyone said had stopped going to the movies. He is producing cinema for people who find the world a little fraying and hope to find in the darkness of the movie-house something mildly uplifting. Redford does not tackle any cutting-edge issues but keeps returning to the question of how America has lost its way, approaching it from a variety of different angles, none of them likely to produce anything so disturbing as a reply.
I can’t pretend to have a detailed knowledge of Redford’s directorial corpus. I doubt if it is meant to be examined closely at all. They might all bear the strapline, “You could do a whole lot worse, admit it!” And so you could. They are not the noisy adolescent fare which chokes the multiplexes; Redford has kept faith with big caps, old cars, sepia photographs and ragtime.
‘A River Runs Through It’ dates from 1993 and is based on a quiet seventies novella about fly-fishing and life which had found a certain market. It was published in several different formats and was attractive to illustrators, a little grass-roots success. Redford is said to have “stalked” the author Norman Maclean for years to obtain the rights*. You often hear of old people being mugged for small change so nothing surprises me there. The end-titles assure us that no fish were harmed during the making of the movie; they don’t mention that Mr Maclean died.
Two well-brought up Christian boys of the lower middle-class undergo a very photogenic combination of stern but loving instruction from their minister-father and the freedom to run wild in the idyllic landscape of twenties Montana. One achieves all his educational goals and looks set to enter the teaching profession and marry a nice white girl. The other follows his inner demons, drinks bootleg liquor, dates a half-breed Native American girl, plays cards and goes to hell in a handcart. There is another character - the nice girl’s dissolute brother. He has lived in Hollywood and proves it by being a liar, a boaster, a lush and what is worse, a damn poor timekeeper. He has LOVE tatooed on his arse but some vices don’t really appear to have entered into his head or even read the word on his welcome mat. Let’s just add cowardice to the list then.
As the brothers, Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt in peroxide mode, grin at each other with disconcerting intensity for most of the movie. You really feel that if these boys had a sister it would be just two generations to banjo-time.
Essentially the story is a version of Cain and Abel in which Cain destroys himself, despite splendid rôle-models and good advice from everyone. That would make for a shorter Bible but it seems to have provoked an awfully long movie. The Stoics and Zen Budhists have, no doubt, contributed their streams to the peculiar West Coast desert where movies grow but they are essentially undramatic. Audiences really need to be in a state of grace before they go in and calm films tend just to make unquiet minds ever more impatient.
*Richard Gere wants my gerbil story but I’m treating him mean till the project hardens.