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ĎA River Runs Through Ití

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 16, 1992

 


Director:
Robert Redford
Cast:
Brad Pitt;
Craig Sheffer;
Tom Skerritt;
Brenda Blethyn;
Emily Lloyd;
Edie McClurg;
Stephen Shellen
PG
Parental guidance suggested
Oscars:
Cinematography


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"A River Runs Through It" carries you gently into the Montana of the past, where two brothers and their father indulge themselves in the transcendent passion of fly fishing. The Blackfoot River that runs through their lives also submerges intimate communication. This adaptation of the Norman Maclean novella, directed by Robert Redford, explores that haunting gulf of silence.

Set between 1910 and 1935, the story's about central characters Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt, who spend their days either at riverside or in church. Their father, Presbyterian minister Tom Skerritt, teaches them the art of catching trout and the ways of the Lord.

"In our family," says narrator Redford, "there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."

As the brothers grow, their characters emerge. Older sibling Sheffer, a quiet, thoughtful type, is bound for writing or teaching. Pitt, a derring-do loner, becomes the family genius at fishing. They also pursue short-lived romances -- Sheffer with Emily Lloyd, Pitt with American Indian Nicole Burdette.

When Sheffer leaves home for Ivy League college, Pitt stays in Montana because -- as the narration explains -- he was "unwilling to leave the fish he'd not yet caught." Returning years later, Sheffer finds his brother has become an imbibing journalist, who still lords it over the waters but loses heavily at poker. Without realizing it, the family has been drifting apart for years.

Sheffer and Pitt bring authentic presence to the movie. They seem sprung from the pages of an old Saturday Evening Post. Sheffer is a quiet, unassuming success; Pitt (best known as Geena Davis's wham-bam lover in "Thelma & Louise") is an engagingly flawed naif.

The movie doesn't fare well under intense scrutiny. Its conclusion is predictable from early on and the subplots are essentially dead-end tributaries. Perhaps the biggest flaw is the incessant use of voice-over. They should have called this "Narration Runs Through It." Redford delivers reverent passage after passage about fishing and unspoken feelings. The words -- taken directly from the book -- are beautifully cast, but they encapsulate the emotions too conveniently. "River" is often told to you, rather than revealed. It feels like bedtime reading for grown-ups, with majestic scenery as a visual backdrop.

But the movie conveys its sentiments with such unhurried effectiveness, these things just flow past. It doesn't hurt matters that the story's set in one of the world's most beautiful corners -- rendered in pre-twilight glows by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot. The setting all but transcends everything -- it gives heft to even the lightest moments among Sheffer, Pitt and Skerritt. One fishing day, when normally taciturn and humorless Skerritt hauls in the biggest catch of the group, he walks away from his quietly jealous sons saying, "I'd say the Lord has blessed us all today. It's just that He's been particularly good to me."

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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