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Some movie posters for this picture featured a long blurb that read: "An epic love story of today. From Mark Rydell, the director of 'On Golden Pond (1981)'. Tom and Mae Garvey. The river runs through their land, their love and their lives. It will bring them together. It will tear them apart. It's where they'll make their stand. Alone they will fail. Together they may find the strength to keep their way of life alive". See more »
Watch out, Tom! Beth, get in the truck! Tom! Are you hurt?
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Fighting invincible adversities as a genuine American virtue
The River features a decent portrayal of the harsh life of American farmers and delivers a fine message that stands as the epitome of genuine American virtues. It is the story of Tom Garvey (Mel Gibson) and his family. They cultivate land close to the banks of the Tennessee River and have to fight floods and financial crises while one of the local capitalists plans to build a reservoir and wants them to abandon their land. Tom and his wife Mae (Sissy Spacek) are unwilling to yield. They rather chose to continue their inhuman struggles and stick to the grounds of their ancestors. What follows is a desperate and almost destructive fight to survive against adversities that seem invincible.
Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek are portrayed as a loving couple that would never back down. Despite mounting pressure and considerable setbacks it is a question of honor and integrity for them to hold on. Due to financial reasons, Tom takes a job as a factory worker and has to leave Mae with the work at home. Mae is a rugged but also very sensitive and determined woman. She is not as stubborn as her husband and does indeed show signs of wavering and despair. Yet she is as dogged as he is when it comes to defend their land and their family. This is where both get their strength from. Land and family. The most important values for Americans. As long as there is land, and as long as the family is intact, there is always hope. Whatever adversity is thrown upon you natural or man-made backing down is no option. The movie lives from this emotional and psychologically compelling commitment and brings these genuine American virtues to the fore with sincere authenticity and without glossing over the facts. The life of the family is portrayed in all its depressing hardships and stands as a symbol for the bold ambitions and the perseverance of the pioneers of the historical frontier. At the same time Tom and Mae embody natural virtues of not just Americans but all humans.
Apart from the very obvious emphasis on courage and steadfastness, the movie provides visually intriguing sequences. The camera work is sublime and manages to capture at least some of the most picturesque images of the Tennessee River. The entire movie is shot on location in the Volunteer State along the banks of the great river. The scenes shot at night and during heavy rain are stunning and require substantial experience.
The River is indeed more than an average movie. Its story is simple but compelling. The characters are decently portrayed and the message is both appealing and inspirational. Storyline developments are sometimes still too slow and some scenes are occasionally long-winded. It is a typical American movie, thus elaborating strongly on American issues and American virtues.
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