A River Runs Through It Movie Review
That's vital here because Norman Maclean, on whose novella-length memoir the film is based, was a writer of exceptional grace and economy. This is a simple story that must be told the way he wrote it, and Redford delivers, even using excerpts as the narration he reads. Smart move, Bob.
Rural Montana of the '20s and '30s is a beautiful and unspoiled place where young Norman (Craig Sheffer) and his brother Paul (Brad Pitt) grow up under the watchful and stern eyes of their father, the town Reverend (Tom Skerritt), and mother (Brenda Blethyn). Norman is the serious son, Paul the more happy-go-lucky adventurer. Both enjoy fly fishing with Dad, but Paul is a natural, and the camera lovingly caresses the sun-kissed Paul as he casts his line in slow motion over and over and over again. It's Pitt at his charismatic peak. (Note how much he looks like a young Redford.)
But as the young men age, the world interferes with their paradise. While Norman finds a love match in the vivacious Jessie Burns (Emily Lloyd), which is no small trick in the middle of nowhere, Paul is easily distracted by the babes and booze available in nearby towns, indulging in increasingly reckless behavior that has both Norman and the Reverend angry and concerned.
Most of the film is about Paul's downward spiral and Norman's gallant but ultimately futile efforts to save him. Paul will disappear for a spell only to turn up in jail. Norman will always bail him out. Dad will deliver a lecture while Mom nervously dries dishes. Paul will just give a Redfordesque smile and squint and say, more or less, "Aw, shucks." But through it all the three men have their fishing, the one constant in their life, and they return again and again to the river and its healing rhythms.
A River Runs Through It is part travelogue and part tragedy, and running right through the middle of it, of course, is the river, a painfully obvious yet still touching metaphor for time's inexorable flow. The impact does build, and no one will mock you if you find yourself in floods of tears as Redford reads Maclean's final haunting words and gives us one final sparkling river vista. It's beautiful, it's sentimental, it's nostalgic, it's the West. Just let it wash over you.