71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
The River King, based from Alice Hoffman's novel is a haunting mystery story. The characters have lept from the pages of a novel and onto the big screen. Starring Jennifer Ehle (BBC Pride and Prejudice)
This moving drama begins with small town police finding a young boy's body in the river, frozen under the ice. From the moment the movie begins, the images, characters and scenery are straight from the novel it was based on.
As the story unfolds, we begin to learn about the boy who was found in the river, and the life he lead before he died. The audience becomes haunted by the mysterious and exclusive private college and its equally strange and elite students. The audience discovers each part of the story through flashbacks and through the memories and thoughts of the characters.
I personally attended a small, private and rather elite college on the East Coast. Throughout the novel I was getting feelings of Deja vu; convinced I was back at Benningon. Not only is the story totally engrossing and haunting, the film starts to become reality and capture the emotions of the audience, without the usual hollywood tricks.
This film blew away my expectations. I was a huge fan of the novel; I read it over and over again. I anticipated the movie being a dissapointment, but found myself captured and surprized, even though I knew what was going to happen next.
If you liked this movie, I would reccomend:
The River King written by Alice Hoffman, and any of her other novels.
Donna Tart's novel: The Secret History (similar plot and setting)
The movies: Practical Magic (by the same author), The Red Violin, Silence of the Lambs, What Lies Beneath, The Village.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2006
When the frozen body of a teenage boy is found in a stream in the facility of an exclusive boarding school Chalk Hall most just quietly assume that he committed suicide. Few people are willing to question the incident, even though local police officer, Abel (Edward Burns) is concerned that there may have been foul play. The body in the river is actually that of tormented outcast Guy Pierce (Thomas Gibson), a new student at the school.
Abel's partner Joey Tosh (John Kapelos) is more than prepared to treat the death as an accident or a suicide, but as Abel sees a small boy in the woods by the riverbank, when no one else sees him, he begins to realize that the death of Guy is probably far more than just an accident. In order to track down the truth, Abel turns to Carlin Leander (Rachelle Lefevre), a swim team member who was Gus's only apparent friend.
Carlin is shattered at Guy's death and confesses to Abel that her close friendship with Guy made her bullying boyfriend jealous, but the more significant confession is that some of the students at Chalk Hall have been involved in strange initiation rights in the woods that involve smearing each other with their own blood, even the townsfolk admit that the Hall gives them the "creeps."
As Abel uncovers this web of intrigue, he finds that Guy's death is just one more episode in a School that is has been mired in corruption and police payoffs. But Abel also has his own demons to contend with - his own brother Frank committed suicide, and as he tries to connect with his father, he must also come to terms with the terrible mistake that led to his Frank's death. Perhaps his affair with the lovely Betsy (Jennifer Ehle) a sophisticated photography teacher at the local school will help him exorcise his insecurities.
The River King is peppered with clues: fecal matter is found in Guy's lungs; Betsy finds smudges in the pictures she takes that look as though they contain a face: a ghost, perhaps; a photo appears of a girl on a swim team, there's an enigmatic Chinese box, a mysterious red rose, and a scarf is found near the stream where Guy's body was found. It's all very puzzling, but the problem is that none of it really comes together that well.
Based on Alice Hoffman's novel of the same name, The River King can't really decide what it wants to be. There are some creepy, atmospheric moments reminiscent of a ghost story, but it's also trying to be a psychological thriller, and even a murder mystery. British director Nick Willing and screenwriter David Lane seem confused on how to approach the novel, consequently it all comes across as a bit of a mishmash of genres. They've put some good elements of all three into a movie that doesn't satisfy any single set of criteria for either a good genre movie or a story well told. It all comes across as one step above a made for TV cable movie.
Perhaps then, the best reason to see The River King is Ed Burns. He's one of the most dynamic, attractive, yet criminally underused actors working today and it's terrific to see him in such a meaty lead role, playing the hunky but kind-hearted classy good guy.
Obviously we keep watching because we want to know how Gus died, and why, but each revelation is broadly telegraphed that they defy belief and most lines of inquiry are never to be resolved. The eventual dramatic payoff comes across as rather wimpy and obligatory, and it is only Abel's unresolved feelings about his brother Frank that give the film any adequate sense of closure. Mike Leonard January 06.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2006
Go into this expecting something like a "Midsomer Murder" and you won't be disappointed. This is not a fast paced in your face shootem up as perhaps some people need a fix for action. However, it is a good movie that although occasionally convaluted still delivers a good story. Good acting, sets, and music make this a worthy rental and I even intend to buy it as I think it is very rewatchable. Burns does a fine job and the rest the cast are more than competant. The camera work is excellent and the director does a great job of making us feel haunted. Many will in fact feel deja vu as one reviewer mentioned. Perhaps from your university days, perhaps from somewhere else. Fans of mysteries should enjoy it. Especially those that enjoy the "Stone Cold" style and not just "Die Hard". Most Hollywood Videos carry this so rent it and I think you will agree it is worth owning.
58 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
Gorgeously brooding cinematography, brilliant and perfectly chosen cast and a deeply emotive score characterize this melancholy reflection on the death of a young man and the ripples it has on the lives of a cop, a teacher and a close friend. Easily one of the best films of 2005 that sadly fell under the radar. This is one of those rare gems that real film lovers will discover in the years to come and hold up as an example of what a great movie can really be.
Sadly now you're stuck with reviews on Amazon.com from 3 camps:
1) The book purists who decry any derivation from the original source material and refuse to look at the film apart from the novel (a complaint that's understood but unjustified and unfair when judging a film on its own merits);
2) Moronic, tasteless idiots (usually younger viewers but not necessarily) who lack a brain, a heart and any measure of patience for anything that doesn't involve slick antiheroes, fast-paced violence and debasing sex;
3) Fans of the material who like what they've seen but struggle to properly synopsize or understand it due to the film's subtleties and metaphoric nature. I'll put myself in this latter category as I think the film is best experienced than read about, but as there are so many dim-witted responses to this film, I might as well try my own dim-witted attempt to explain what is so incredible about this picture.
I won't go into the plot, save to say that it begins with the discovery of a body in a river and the investigation by an honest police officer (played by Burns) who starts to see evidence that more is involved than an accident.
The three leads are very real, tragic characters that belong to the town's icy wasteland which has become infused with the mysterious death that in each of their lives takes on almost mythological proportions.
Burns is absolutely perfect in the role of a cop whose grief for his long dead brother is triggered by the investigation and possible cover-up. Unspoken and stoic, the grief is all in his achingly haunted eyes; like the small town blanketed in winter the character is frozen by sorrow, unable to move forward in his life.
Burns is joined by the ever wonderful Jennifer Ehle (Pride & Prejudice), a teacher in the school where the boy attended, who in her own way becomes obsessed by the tragedy of the case. Unlike Burns, Ehle is frozen not by the past, but by the future -- engaged to a man that is utterly void and cold -- yet unable to see a way out for herself.
Lastly there is the dead boy's friend played by Rachelle Lefevre, a young woman traumatized by the possibility that her friend may have committed suicide due to a fight she had with him shortly prior to his death. Unable to cope with the part she may have played, she becomes a stark figure of grief stuck in the icy landscape of a terrible moment.
Part of what makes this film so powerful and refreshing is it's deft use of music, camera and subtle metaphoric elements to create a deeply moody palette that approaches myth, yet remains utterly real and hauntingly reflective without falling into the cliched supernatural thriller mold. Likewise, while utilizing some of the trappings of mystery and cop films, it never descends into the cliche of the violent police film, nor the mystery movie that presents twists just for the sake of fooling the audience.
This film works at a much higher level than all of that. Yet despite its metaphysical elements, it's never pretentious or ungrounded in real life, even if at times that reality is heightened. There is a rare emotive quality here that weaves a spell akin to what great literature is able to achieve, creating genuine mystery and keeping the reality of the plot from ever feeling altogether depressing (which some feel while reading a newspaper for example.) It's aptly named The River King as there are layers of depth that will have you returning to the film and even picking up the original novel by Alice Hoffman. Sadly, the only thing lacking is any kind of extras on the DVD (save the trailer which is terribly cut to make the film look like something else.) A future release with director's and actors' commentary, an interview with Alice Hoffman, deleted scenes and other added bonuses would be great! That said, the 16x9 transfer is incredibly life-like and detailed. The 5.1 sound makes good use of the surrounds where appropriate to create and sustain the film's stark atmosphere.
Without revealing anything, I think where some people find themselves disappointed in the film (apart from the simpleminded buffoons who demand Hollywood cliches and can't handle something different) is that the River King takes the viewer on a journey that shows us glimpses of an elusive heightened sense of reality, but brings us back to the surface of the real world. And it is a grievous world. And yet as in the image of spring and the flowing water, lives become unthawed, and the story is redeemed from being too unremittingly grim. Not every mystery is solved, and not everything is perfectly tied up. Nor should it be. That's not how life is. And the river keeps its own secrets.
If nothing else I've said makes any sense, trust me when I say this: If you appreciate a movie that actually makes you feel something, and doesn't have to provide pat answers and false thrills, pick up The River King.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman, THE RIVER KING is a little known film that is quite haunting and involving. Edward Burns is wonderful as Abel Grey, a small town policeman investigating the apparent suicide of a young student at the local prep school. John Kapelos effectively plays his not so honest partner. As Burns investigates, evidence suggests that the victim did not kill himself, that he was perhaps murdered.
The movie is methodically paced and features beautiful Nova Scotia scenery; Burns becomes romantically involved with one of the teachers (a delightful Jennifer Ehle), who is engaged to another stuffy teacher. Rachelle Lefevre as Carla, the victim's best friend, is also very good. THE RIVER KING takes some subtle plot twists, one involving the suicide of his older brother when Abel was a child and this event plays a key part in Burns' investigation. Alternately moody and grim, the movie is nonetheless a very good one, and benefits largely from Burns' strong presence, and a lovely score by Simon Boswell.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2006
I haven't read the novel, but the film was interesting. Personally, the cinematography overwhelmingly pulled me into the story, so if the film itself didn't tell the story well the imagery more than made up for it. Kudos go to the musical score as well for it matched perfectly with the scenery. Burns does a fine job acting as the cop who tries to do the right thing and find the answers about a troubling prep school death. I had no expectations for this but its better than many big hyped films I've recently seen.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2006
No big noise, no computer graphic effects, just a good screenplay, well-acted and enjoyable. Recommended!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This was a really good story and it's remained in the back of my mind since I watched it! Edward Burns, in the starring role, gives an outstanding performance as Detective Abel Grey.
The setting is a small New England town where a private prep school seems to be the dominating influcence in the area. When Gus Pierce, a young student is found dead, the questions start! Did he commit suicide, have an accident or was he murdered? The school officials, the police chief, the boy's best friend, and the boy's father all have their own theories and personal reasons to believe them. Detective Grey becomes very involved in solving the mystery. His older brother had also died mysteriously when he was a teenager. Grey, a small boy at the time, had never really resolved his personal loss.
A little romance is added to the film when Detective Grey and a teacher at the school meet and seem to have an instant connection. Their relationship provides a little lightness to the film.
I felt that The River King was well done and the filming and music lent a haunting beauty to the scenery. It was a perfect fit!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
For over a century, the small New England town of Haddon has maintained an uneasy relationship with its prestigious prep school. Some of the coldness has been remedied by a huge donation made by the academy for a local health center. So when one of the scholarship students is found face up under the ice of the river, the police and town council are reluctant to investigate when it looks like an accident or suicide. But one cop, Abel Grey, cannot bring himself to sweep ant evidence under the Persian rugs, even when it appears likely that a group of the more elite boys may be behind the death.
Although the movie plot suffers from the absence of detail that illuminated the novel, it conveys an aura of secrecy and menace that is hard to resist. The performances by a relatively little known cast are understated, but what this film lacks in terms of excitement is provided by its visuals, atmosphere, and sometimes its silence. The snowy, icy northeastern winter and the dark, formal buildings are the perfect setting for this story, which is full of symbolism and strongly reminiscent of another movie in this genre, The Dead Poets Society. Schools will always have their misunderstood misfits and their cocky leaders with their followers, and the River King is yet another version of what may happen when they are all required to coexist.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2006
Intrigued by the title and its mythical associations, I rented this film on impulse. Although I have never warmed to Alice Hoffman's novels, after watching "The River King," twice, I was tempted to try reading one again.
Given the slow pace, the bleak winter setting and the flat affect of the character played by Ed Burns, I sat back expecting a competently acted, routine murder mystery. But "The River King" is anything but typical or ordinary.
As with any mystery, there is the suspicious death, secrets and lies, plot twists and the resulting revelations. However, side by side with the visible and palpable world we call reality is another world, symbolized by the ubiquitous river, that intersects with the lives and fates of the characters. The story provides a satisfying end; but just as the river seems to flow unendingly, so the viewer will continue thinking about the River King.
In "The River King," Ed Burns conveys an understated intensity and passion, as does Jennifer Ehle, which requires few words. The silences between them express far more than any words they do exchange. The supporting cast is strong and convincing in their roles. Then there's the music, which beguiles and captivates, leaving the listener longing for more.
Where is the soundtrack for "The River King"? Anybody know? Or why isn't there a soundtrack?