Monday, March 9, 2009

The River Wild

Welcome back to March Madness at Ben's Movie Reviews. We got off to a slow start, but things are starting to pick up around here. After the cinematic disaster known as City Hall, I went back and re-watched The River Wild, a 1994 movie starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon. I know - it's hard to believe I would watch a Meryl Streep film on purpose once, let alone multiple times. Shockingly, she's actually watchable in this one - in fact she's more than watchable, she is the heart that keeps this movie pumping.

The River Wild
Director: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly, David Strathairn

Director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential) does a great job of building suspense in this movie, which mostly takes place on a river. Streep plays Gail, a former river guide who now lives miles away in Boston with her estranged workaholic husband Tom (Strathairn) and their two children. They decide to take their oldest, Rourke (Joseph Mazello, the kid from Jurassic Park), across the country for a trip down the river for his birthday. But when they run into a couple of other campers on the trip (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly), things slowly start to get interesting. I'm not going to spell out any more of the plot, because I think this one is worth watching and recommend that you check it out.

Barring some astonishingly stupid occurances (a guy punches someone under water, then later that same guy literally falls off a cliff face into the water and survives), The River Wild delivers a pretty realistic account of a white water rafting trip gone wrong. The camerawork was impressive, getting right in the boat with the travelers as they tear through waves and churn over small waterfalls to dazzling effect. While having a decidedly "90's" feel, the film holds up easily to today's standards and deftly balances the familial aspect with the menacing treachery featured later in the story.

What really makes The River Wild worth watching (besides Streep, as much as it pains me to say that) is the fantastic supporting cast. David Strathairn (who you'd recognize, but probably won't know by name) was great as the meek but resiliant father, reminding me of how much I enjoy his work. Kevin Bacon was exceptional, and John C. Reilly turned in a passable performance before he gained the star power he has today. Even Benjamin Bratt shows up in a small role as a Forest Ranger.

Much can be said about Streep's character Gail: she represents a positive step for women in action films since she's the protagonist and main character. Her strong personality, especially paired opposite her docile husband, is brought to the forefront of this film and gives the audience someone to root for over the course of the movie. Gail's complete dominance over all of the men in this film borders on the indulgant, but her history with the river provides all the leverage she needs to exert her authority. She even grabs the ultimate phallic representation, a gun, and symbolically "fires one off," something that none of the men in the movie seemed to be able to do - physically or metaphorically. Denis O'Neill, the writer, makes damn sure we know this is a woman's world, and Mother Gail is the only one equipped to handle Mother Nature.

I think most people will enjoy this film - it's a good blend of action, thriller, romance, and suspense. The feminist agenda is handled smoothly, and shouldn't be a turn-off to any Rambo-loving action junkies out there. Until next time...

No comments: