The thing about rivers is that, in the short term at least, they are very predictable. The water generally flows in one direction, and all of it ends up in the same place. The thing about The River Wild is that it, too, is very predictable. Twenty minutes into the white-water adventure thriller, anyone familiar with Hollywood conventions knows beyond a doubt that the plot is going to flow through the Valley of Familial Reconciliation, before ending up in that familiar place called Happy Ending. There are some nice vistas along the way, and a couple of thrilling rides through rapids and waterfalls, but audiences have already been down this particular route too many times. The movie is a kind of feminist Deliverance,
THE RIVER WILD
Directed by Curtis Hanson
without that movie’s moral resonance. Gail (Meryl Streep) is a mother of two, negotiating the rapids of marital breakdown. Her husband, Tom (David Strathaim), is a workaholic Boston architect—Hollywood’s preferred profession for men these days. At the last minute,
he pries himself away from his drafting table to join Gail and their 10-year-old son, Roarke (Joseph Mazzello), on a rafting trip down the river where she used to work as a guide. They meet another rafter, Wade (Kevin Bacon), a charmer who has psychopath written all over him. Wade’s guide mysteriously disappears, and since he and his partner (John C. Reilly) lack outdoorsy skills, they glom on to Gail.
Things proceed according to formula. Gail and Roarke are initially drawn to Wade. Father, of course, knows best, but it takes a while for the rest of the family to recognize Wade’s creepiness. Eventually, the bad guys break their cover, and it becomes clear that they are on the lam after a violent robbery. And when the going gets tough, the fractured family draws together. The only twist is that mom plays a major role in saving the day. Even so, she needs the help of the effete Tom, who uses his engineering savvy to foil the villains.
It is sad to see the gifted Streep in such a dismal role. Even so, she acquits herself fairly well, and actually handled 90 per cent of the rapids herself. Strathaim, however, who was so impressive in Passion Fish, seems almost paralyzed by the clichés he was given to work with. For director Curtis Hanson ('The Hand that Rocks the Cradle), the river is a symbol for family life. And in his banal view, love is a raft in troubled waters.
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