on April 1, 2006
I have heard it said that Norman Maclean's classic novella "A River Runs Through It" is the finest piece of American literature ever written. I don't understand how things like literature can be ranked in such simple terms. I will say, however, that it is one of my personal favorites. Spare, poetic and spellbinding. Perhaps one of the reasons that I love this novella so is because I grew up on a farm near the Rocky Mountains, and spent so much time when I was younger fishing and tracking through wood and field. Maclean's tale speaks to me of my youth in authentic and familiar terms.
I generally approach cinematic adaptations of literature, particularly of literature which I hold in such high esteem, with a certain amount of reluctance, even dread. Who could possibly capture the beautiful, simple craftmanship of Maclean's profound prose on celluloid? Evidently, Robert Redford. And he does it with grace and apparent ease. Many of Maclean's efficeintly magnificent words are provided through narration. While I generally find the device of voiceover narration distasteful (primarily because it is so often used to "coach" the viewer), in this case, the viewer is drawn into (and eased out of) Macleans world by Macleans own prose, and nothing could be more appropriate or satisfying. Also, the cinematography is nothing short of spectacular, capturing the magnificent, rugged expanse of Montana's "big sky" wilderness one moment, the golden intimacy of an afternoon on the river the next. I dare say that Redford has captured the essence of Maclean's abiding love for his childhood wilderness in this film, and we, the viewers, are richer for it.
A River Runs Through It is as close to perfection as I have seen in translating a beloved work of letters onto the cinematic screen. Does it have its flaws? I'm sure it does, and there are other reviews here that will point them out for you if you care. For my part, I wish only to say that this is a story about love, crafted by Maclean with love, and now adapted to the screen by Redford with a care that speaks of love - love of the subject matter and the written words. Macleans last words in the novella (and the movie) are "I am haunted by waters." Thanks to his words, and Redfords faithful adaptation of them, I too am haunted.
on March 9, 2004
I don't think anybody who has ever visited the American West, particularly the north-western states of Montana and Wyoming, hasn't come away deeply impressed with the majestic beauty of their mountains, rivers, streams, endless skies, prairies and meadows. Many probably went home to find that the photos they took, trying to immortalize their impressions, just didn't seem to do justice to the real thing, and wishing they possessed the craft to adequately capture the region's beauty in images, whether literary or visual. Robert Redford has succeeded to combine words and pictures in this stunning adaptation of Norman Maclean's 1976 autobiographical novella "A River Runs Through It."
Set in early 20th century rural Montana, this is the coming-of-age story of the author and his brother Paul, sons of a Scottish Presbyterian minister who raised them with both love and sternness and instilled in them, more than anything else, an understanding for the divine beauty of their land, symbolized by and culminating in a fly fisherman's skill in casting his rod, and his ability to become one with the river in which he fishes. For, in Norman Maclean's words, in their family "there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing;" and growing up, the brothers came to believe quite naturally that Jesus's disciples themselves must have been fly fishermen, too; and that consequently every good fly fisherman is closer to the divine than any other human.
But while they were united by their love for their native land and its rivers and fish, the brothers couldn't have been any more different on a personal level. And thus, this is also a story of brotherly (and parental) love and loss, of the inability to communicate, and of dreams and aspirations nurtured and fatally disappointed. While disciplined, sensible Norman (Craig Sheffer) left Montana for a six-year college education at Dartmouth and ultimately - after having temporarily returned home and taken a bride - to assume a teaching position at the University of Chicago, rebellious Paul (Brad Pitt in a truly career-defining role) knew that he would never leave his home state and "the fish he had not yet caught;" and opted for a journalist's life instead. But ultimately he wasn't able to fight the demons that possessed him; and his parents and brother had to stand by and helplessly watch him embark on a path of self-destruction, reduced to comments on symbolic matters like Paul's decision to change the spelling of their last name by capitalizing the "L" ("Now everybody will think we are Lowland Scots," scorned their father), where to open topicalize their concerns would have destroyed the careful equilibrium of mutual respect, love, hope, caution and guardedness characterizing their relationship. And so, only after Paul's death could his father tell a hesitant Norman that he knew more about his brother than the fact that Paul had been a fine fisherman: "He was beautiful" - and mourn in a sermon, even later, that all too frequently, when looking at a loved one in need, "either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding."
Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt are perfectly cast as the earnest, reasonable Norman and his maverick brother Paul, who relies on his innate toughness in his fateful attempt to take life to its limits and still beat the devil, but who also turns the casting of a fishing line into an art form that makes a rainbow rise from the water, and who with his greatest-ever catch stands before his father and brother "suspended above the earth, free from all its laws, like a work of art." Moreover, this movie reunited Robert Redford with Tom Skerritt, with whom he had first shared the screen in the 1962 Korean war drama "War Hunt" (both actors' big-screen debut), and who gives a finely-tuned, sensitive performance as the Reverend Maclean. Notable are also the appearances of Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Maclean and Emily Lloyd as Norman's bride-to-be Jessie. But the movie's true star is Montana itself, particularly its rivers and streams; every frame of Philippe Rousselot's Academy Award-winning cinematography and every sweep of the camera over Montana's magnificent landscape, and along the silver bands of its rivers with their gurgling cataracts and waves curling softly against their banks, powerful testimony to Robert Redford's genuine love and respect for the West and for nature in general; the causes closest to his heart and matched in importance only by his efforts to promote a movie scene outside of Hollywood. And Redford himself assumes the (uncredited) role of the narrator, thus bringing to the screen Norman Maclean's lyrical language and uniting words and pictures in an audiovisual sonnet, subtly accentuated by Mark Isham's gentle score.
Both movie and novella end with the lines that have given the story its title: "[I]n the half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul; and memories, and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River, and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one; and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs" - those of Norman Maclean's now-lost loved ones; those he "loved and did not understand in [his] youth." As we have had to learn, it is not only human life that is terminal; even nature itself (including, incidentally, the Macleans' beloved Big Blackfoot River) is not immune to destruction by human carelessness. This movie is a powerful plea to all of us not to wait until it has become too late.
A River Runs through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition
The Norman Maclean Reader
Norman MacLean (Western Writers)
The Big Sky
The Horse Whisperer
Legends of the Fall (Deluxe Edition)
Spy Game (Widescreen Edition)
on November 1, 2000
A River Runs Through It is one of those films that can be watched over and over. The movie focases on the lives of two brothers(Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer) growing up in Montana and the different paths they take. The sons of a minister(played well by Tom Skerrit) they are brought up religiously with two faiths, the church and fishing. Eventually Normon(Scheffer) goes away to school and Paul(Pitt) stays at home and becomes a newspaper reporter. Years later, after finishing his degree, Normon returns to Montana to decide what he wants to do with the rest of his life. While he was away Paul has developed some bad habbits, namely gambling. Everyone in the family is aware of the problem but doesn't seem to want to confront it. Instead they go fishing and catch up on old times. Normon meets a local girl at a dance and begins courting her. This leads to a hillarious incident involving her brother, who is a compulsive liar and a drunk. Eventually Normon settles on what he wants to do and Paul's problems come back to haunt him. Robert Redford's excellent directing, along with strong performances, and breathtaking cinematography make this a very charming film. It is worth seeing, again and again.
I had never taken the time to sit through the entire film before, so this actually worked out nicely playing it for customers all weekend. They managed to put together a nice overall package for any fan of this movie and the Blu quality made for a convincing demo to those that had seen the other two DVD releases of this.
The picture quality came across with solid vibrancy, clarity and saturation. There are plenty of chances for there to be obvious artifact (with all of the sky shots and skin close-ups) but they did a competent removal throughout. If there is any significant doubt as to what the original product looked like - be sure to watch the deleted scenes for the before and after. The sound was better than I was setting the bar for as I am not a fan of TrueHD and how bad some of the vocals turn out. Not a benchmark test for 1990s surround films, but I was pleased.
The supplements are thorough for any fan, and include:
* The 30 minute making-of filled with plenty of background, interviews, excerpts and tidbits of information.
* The Blackout Challenge, Rescuing a River: A 15 minute mix of ecological, environmental and personal story info about the river and saving it for the future.
* Casting a Line: A 6 minute guide on how to start fly fishing, there were actually a few kids that watched this part and seemed interested.
* Deleted Scenes: 17 cut/modified scenes totaling 16 minutes. A few bland, a few interesting - but what it showcases the most is how the film stock looked years ago and how great it looks in this version.
* On The Blackfoot River 1080 Loops: Exclusive to the BD. They contain a looped 1080 view, that is selectable by the user between a "Rushing River", "Rocky Mt", "Big Sky Country" and "Forest Bend". All of them have background scores by the film's composer (able to turn that on/off). They all looked and sounded adequate, and the best thing out of them would be the 5.1 mix of water and insect sounds; maybe one of those screen saver moments to have on the display for background and such.
The book has 34 glossy pages of information about the film, the actors and fly fishing. I scanned a couple of them to give an idea of what to expect should you be sitting on the fence about spending the money for this version. As soon as I am allowed to post them here I will (no prebook pics are allowed).
Overall, a worthwhile addition to the store as the entire product was given a good treatment. Hope you enjoy.
on March 26, 2006
"Preachy"? "Self-Important"???? Good grief... Some people just feel the need to throw insults at anything. This movie was a rock solid story of a family conflicted on many different levels, but love still remained. Togetherness still remained, no matter how far apart they were physically, or the depths one of them may fall. What a great movie this was. Also, the cinematography and music was outstanding, capturing every moment. It's a shame that some people forget about the entire scope of a film, and just want to jump on the negatives. You'd really have to go out of your way and come up with BS like "self-important", or start jumping on the "Hollywood liberals" to rate this any less than 4 stars.
on September 5, 2000
Amazingly, A River Runs Through It stays dead-on true to the novella by Norman MacLean. Unlike so many books based on movies, they didn't change the ending, the characters, the feel, or even many of the words. Instead, the film makers only added to the story by setting it to the incredible scenery MacLean was reduced to describing in words, and by a great job of casting (no, Brad Pitt isn't just eye candy here).
Of course, staying close to the original story wouldn't be any great bonus if the original story weren't something special. MacLean managed to write prose redolent of the mountains and streams of his past, creating something that's very much a 'guy' story yet still curiously sensitive in its view of a thoughtful young Norman and his wilder younger brother, in a family whose men bond over their casting rods. You don't have to fly-fish to enjoy this, but you may find yourself wanting to learn how afterwards.
on November 1, 2001
I have seen all the films directed by Robert Redford and appreciated his love of the American people and the land. In A River Runs Through It, Redford displays the lyric romanticism and visual splendor of the high Rocky Mountins of Montana as if he were a 19th century landscape painter of the ilk of Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt. This film makes love to the visual and the word, with text by author Norman Maclean, and stunning camera work by Phillippe Rousselot (Serpent's Kiss, Reigne Margot).
Redford's cast is perfect. Tom Skerritt is the Rev. MacLean, a man whose methods of education include fly fishing as well as the Bible, Brenda Blythen, the mother, and his sons, Craig Schaffer and Brad Pitt create a family whose interactions reflect the same problems all encounter with growing teenage sons, and later, complex young men. Both Schaffer and Pitt are totally believable as the brothers whose love of fly fishing and each other will tie them together forever. It is the relationships between men, father and sons, brothers, and their women to the outside world that grounds A River Runs Through It to a vein of storytelling that is missing in so many of Hollywood films produced in recent years.
What makes these relationships special however, is the attention Redford gives to the language as spoken in dialogue. This is a literate script, beautiful to hear and unforgettable when coupled with the stunning Montana rivers and mountains. The words and setting are equal to performances by a cast that rises to their material. While the idea of fly fishing may seem an odd device to center a story, it is not so implausible in Redford's directorial hands. Given the material, Redford's ode to a simpler time and life is worth revisiting again and again. This treasure of a film should be included in every collection.
on January 17, 2004
Most negative reviews here grumble about the movie's slowness, which is fair. Yet, despite its lack of event, this nostalgic recollection through one man's memories is a beautiful cinematograph of experience and family values.
At the very least, you'll remember its stunning landscapes for a long time, particularly the powerful and majestic "Blackfoot River" captured immaculately by the same cinematographer as Dangerous Liaisons. Montana must be a pretty state!
Robert Redford's voiceover narration in his silken voice is calm, allowing the poetry of Norman Maclean's written words to carry the emotion: "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it."
What piqued my attention was its subtheme of the passion for a pursuit -- fly fishing in this case, which is an intrigue to me in itself. As the fishing lines flick and whisk over the whispering river, a low sun sheening the tree-lined horizon, the rhythm of image embraces imagination and meditation. We are close to understanding what Norman means when he says he is "haunted by waters".
By the time the film comes to its lyrically elegiac end, it has touched your heart and made you think. That is perhaps a good reason in and of itself to watch the movie. Personally, I'd even recommend getting the DVD, it's one you'll watch with kids or people who matter to you.
on June 26, 2003
One of the all-time best movies ever made, this lyrical and nostalgic film made by multi-talented Robert Redford lives on a long time after the final credits have rolled. It's a screenplay written from a very short coming-of-age-in-Montana memoir by Norman MacLean. A River Runs Through It concerns the lives of two brothers (one steady and reliable, the other a bit of a wild scamp - that would be Brad Pitt). Their minister father is the quintessential early century patriarch who gives both sons the gift of the art, beauty, dance, mystery, and sacrament of fly fishing, a strong metaphor for Life itself.
Trouble sets in when the younger boy gets into serious gambling/drinking, and the family bonds are tested in ways they never expected.
Beautiful screenplay, stellar acting, gorgeous cinematography. Just simply one of the best.
on January 1, 2006
I first saw this film when I was eleven. My father taped it, and when I was thirteen, I watched the tape again and again. Being that young, I could not understand the symbolism involved, I simply knew that the movie was "beautiful." Each time I watched "A River Runs Through It", it grew in me, as if I felt a deeper sense of spiritual awakening just from seeing the movie. Now I am 21 years old and an English major, so the symbolism is much clearer.
In the film, there are two brothers, Paul and Norman. The father, the Reverend MacLean teaches the two brothers how to cast a fishing rod. The two learned to cast with a four count rhythm, with a metronome playing. The narrator Norman says of his father: "If he had had his way, no one who did not know how to catch a fish, would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching it." It becomes clear that this simple way to catch fish, using a four count rhythm, is graceful. If a fly-fisherman swings his rod too powerfully, it might become stuck in some trees. If he swings too weakly, it will never go into the stream where the fish are biting. But the four count rhythm method of casting, is "just right."
Paul is a rebellious, golden-haired youth. His rebellion starts early when he refuses to eat his porridge. He gets into a fight with his older brother Norman, but all is forgiven. The next day, Norman watches his little brother break free of his father's "four count rhythm." He has rebelled into something courageous and original. Though despite its own unique beauty, its gracefulness is different than Norman and his father. It has less control. He calls it "shadow casting" later in life. Like the "shadow casting" Paul's life has less structure than Norman's.
Norman has always had that spiritual grace that comes with swinging the rod just right. It's almost as if he has spiritual gifts as well as his academic ones. (Norman receives a masters degree and becomes a professor.)
Paul's spiritual gifts are no less important, but they are not sustainable, because they lack the discipline and the structure of Norman. Despite his sad outcome, Paul's fishing and his life are "beautiful." They are beautiful because you can love them "completely, without complete understanding."
I wish other films were made now like this one. It is extremely effective as a spiritual project because it not only conveys the message, but the viewer feels the message, the way I had when I was thirteen. It inspired me to stay in my best structure, like Norman had.