River’s Edge (1986), or Where The Water Flows

1 10 2009

With all the sickness, devastation, and death that plagues our world on a daily basis, it’s easy to become jaded by it all. We see death every day on the news, in television, and see it in movies. It’s all around us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So by the time one matures in this society whose lips are always pressed for the Last Rites of its neighbors, it takes something jarring to awaken us from our self-imposed emotional isolation. River’s Edge is a movie that both belittles a death in small-town America and weeps for it, a dichotomy that is embodied in the two main characters. It’s an unforgettable experience that is only slightly marred by the madness that is Crispin Glover and the inexperience of the cast.

River’s Edge is about a murder in a small town. A big jerk named Samson kills his girlfriend Jamie one night, and the next day shows his group of buddies the body (!!!). Out of the group, everyone has a different reaction. Some are distraught and want to go to the police, others don’t want to deal with it. But the leader of the group, Layne, is determined to get Samson out of trouble and ship him out of state. He is blinded by his idioms of duty and kinship to the dumb lug of a friend despite the fact that he killed a chick. It follows these kids as they try to grow up in the shadow of what has happened, and the consequences of either their silence or their outcries. What will become of these poor lost souls when the truth comes out and the police get involved?

River’s Edge has such a haunting countenance. The idea of modern teenage morality is sort of a frightening thought, and the film makes me somewhat wary of people who were teens when I was born (which, consequently, was 1986). Given the fact that Stand By Me was about kids finding a dead body in the 50s and NOT reporting it immediately, I’d be willing to give that generation a clean break, if it weren’t for the strong reaction I get from people who enjoy this movie. A lot of people REALLY enjoy it, and just as many people I know tell me that what they show here as these teens’ lives was precisely the culture they lived in growing up in a poor white-trash town. Congratulations to screenwriter Neal Jimenez and director Tim Hunter for accurately encapsulating a particular time and place with this truly unforgettable movie.

Based upon a real-life murder in California, River’s Edge will make you think about death and youth in a completely different way. Shot for only $2 million, Tim Miller takes us into the mind of the teenager in a way that few others can. I was a teenager only a few years ago, and even I can’t put a face or a word to it like Miller can. The emotional scenes by the river, where Jamie’s body lies, are vivid and uncompromising. The scenes at home, where Matt in particular is struggling, are shot with a subtle detachment. It gives the impression that it was shot with a purpose, not to make a quick buck with a controversial topic straight off the presses of Headline News. It has the earnest intention of wanting to understand the kids, and all the things they’re going through.

Which is difficult to accomplish at times, because River’s Edge has a double-bladed cast. The actors are raw and talented, but they are inexperienced and asked to carry too much of the movie for their skill level. Keanu Reeves does well as Matt, the one guy with a conscience, but not the courage to show it. He has the potential by then, but it’s not realized yet here. Ione Skye plays Clarissa, an emotionally distressed girl who is likely the most upset about Jamie’s demise. Skye has a good range here, and her authenticity is without question. The moment she first discovers the body is a tiny highlight for me. The only real veteran on the cast, Dennis Hopper, plays a weirdo named Feck with only one leg and a mind for mischief. This was around Hopper’s comeback years, and it’s fun to see him in anything. Keep an eye out for his big moment with a blow-up doll!

And then we come to Crispin Glover… Um, well what can you really say about the Clown Prince of Weird. He plays Layne with an unbelievably eccentric energy, which comes from some unseen gnashing maw within the earth that spews out crazy-juice. I could not take him seriously for one second, and to try is sheer madness. I mean, look at the clip above. It’s not good. How about this one?

Still nothing? I just don’t think he was right for this role. He’s simply not a tough-guy. I normally love Glover’s manic persona (hell, I even own his spoken-word album), but here he just seems wasted by playing WAY against type as bad-boy Layne.

But all in all, a damn good movie. It had me emotionally hooked from moment one. There’s not a whole lot of other movies that would tackle subject matter like this and try to pull it off with a minimum of exploitation. It will make you question the nature of truth and honesty, and, perhaps like me, it will make you look at the act of murder in a new light and make you remember just how grave and terrible a thing it is. The only thing that trips it up is a young (and slightly weird) cast that didn’t have enough prior roles under their belt to take this film on, but it’s still impressive for what it is. I give River’s Edge 8 1/2 spoken-word albums out of 10! Catch it!

Tomorrow I have Frailty to watch! Until then!




One response

2 10 2009

There are many things I disliked about the 80’s; the hair, the clothes, much of the music, but this film rocked my world when I seen it the first time. It is bleak and angry, sad and amusing. Dennis Hopper is brilliant! Amusing, but also disturbing. I have no problem with Crispin Glover in this, and I even like Kneau Reeves. The little brother was a trip too.

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