The River Wild (1994) from Tuna

The River Wild (1994) is a thriller with a rather thin and predictable plot that is raised several notches by an excellent cast, beautiful locations, and amazing work by DP Robert Elswit. The film stars Meryl Streep (I said excellent cast) as a mother and former river guide who is taking her 10-year-old son on a White-water trip for his birthday. 
Her husband (David Strathairn), as usual, begs off at the last minute claiming work problems. As Streep and her son get ready to push off, they meet three men who will also be rafting at the same time. At the last moment, Strathaim shows up for the trip. There is much talk of "The Gauntlet" at the far end of the river, which has been the death of many rafters, and is now off-limits. Streep, of course, successfully ran the gauntlet in her youth.


There was a nude bathing scene at night, but the long shots could have been anyone from what you can see, and the close-ups don't show much more than head and shoulders. There may be a nipple visible under water. There are several very nice pokies, however.
The other three men are the bad guys, having committed a robbery. You can predict the rest of the plot easily. Streep is completely believable as mother, wife concerned about the marriage, and rafting expert. She fleshes out the character with humor, spirit, drive and devotion. She received a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress for this part. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • no meaningful features

The bad guys are played to perfection by Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly (the third man dies early in the film). Ebert found fault, saying that it was a Deliverance clone, and that clones only work when you get the details perfect. In his first example of a problem, he got an important detail way wrong, which leads me to believe that old Roger awarded his two stars based on fast-forwarding through much of the film. 

Scoop's notes: 

I think Tuna got it exactly right. Tremendous talent on hand. Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) directed Meryl Streep. Right there you have the makings of a four star movie.

But it isn't. The IMDb score is about indicative of the appeal of the film. On the other hand, as Tuna said, it is beautifully photographed, and in a 2.35 aspect ratio.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.2
  • With their dollars ... it was made for $45 million, and grossed $47 domestically, plus $22 million in rentals.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description,  I will give this a B-. Even though the plot is predictable, and the pace is occasionally slow, the fine performances and great photography make it worth the watch.

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