Robert Redford is such an underrated filmmaker. Okay, so he won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for the great Ordinary People, over the far superior Raging Bull. But that should not be reason to overlook his directorial efforts, because some of them are quite good such as A River Runs Through It.
One has to be a very masterful director to make a story about faith and fly fishing enjoyable and Redford did just that here. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Norman Maclean based on his own life growing up in Montana and fly fishing with his father and his brother, A River Runs Through It is a soft-paced look at small town life and brotherly love. And it’s great. Just like a male, “modern” adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the two brothers are completely different from one another. Norman (Sheffer) is the reasonable one, the good, responsible son, who goes away from his hometown to study at University while Paul (Pitt) is the impulsive one, who becomes a journalist and cannot say no to an adventure.
What unites these two, besides the deep love and respect for his parents, is fly fishing. Redford shoots these scenes as if they were holy experiences, and in a way that’s exactly what they are. There’s a deep respect and reverence for what they are doing every time they hit the rivers. It’s a very meditative moment for this family and their connection to Nature is truly felt. But there is also the strong bond between the family, and that is what pulls viewers in. What many surely remember were the fishing scenes (thanks to the gorgeous cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, rightfully awarded with an Oscar) that we forget that there are actually not that many fishing scenes. A River Runs Through It is a story of these two brothers, and their connection is the main thread to follow.
Redford treats the script with a very understated approach, which only makes their journey more interesting to watch. We feel that brotherly love right from the start, and we hold on to it all the way to the devastating end. And because we believe and care so much for these two, it’s impossible not to be totally heartbroken by it. In a way, A River Runs Through It taps on the same feelings Stand by Me instilled in viewers a few years before. These are the memories of youth, at a time when everything seemed possible. Meanwhile, an extra layer of emotional involvement comes from the deep respect and love these men have for their parents (Skerritt and Brenda Blethyn). The father, especially, is a great role model. He is the moral compass of the family, and he is strict and stern, but we can also sense the deep love and warmth he has for his kids.
While the cast is great, and the real standout is Pitt as Paul. Paul is the landmark character for the actor, one that he came back to from time to time in his career: the rebellious yet unbelievably charismatic man, the guy you see doing a couple of wrong things but he has so much energy and fun doing it you just let it go. Pitt is quite good here, and he also looks remarkably like a young Robert Redford. He looks so damn handsome here that sometimes you just want to punch him in the face…
In the end, A River Runs Through It is a beautiful, emotional journey.
still courtesy of Columbia Pictures
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