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Tom and Mae Garvey (Mel Gibson, Sissy Spacek) are the owners of a small
eastern Tennessee farm that has been in the Garvey family for generations.
It is the early 1980s, when the staggering U.S. economy threatens the
welfare of the American family farm. The Garveys' struggles are
by the fact that their property is in a flood plain, and by the enmity of
Tom's rival Joe Wade (Scott Glenn), who is a wealthy and powerful foe.
is not lighthearted entertainment.
For me, the film's most powerful moments come when cash-strapped Tom has to leave the farm to find work elsewhere. He unknowingly becomes a scab in a factory where the regular labor force is on strike. At least there is a regular paycheck, but the contrast between the man-made hell of a iron foundry/steel mill and the natural beauty of the family farm is compelling, and you can see why the Garveys struggle to hold on to their agricultural way of life, however hard it is. The cinematography for this movie is way above average, a celebration of rural America.
Sissy Spacek delivers her usual fine performance. Mel Gibson is very good-- his Tennessee accent quite convincing. The two youngsters who play their children deserve special praise for their natural performances. This is a good, thoughtful movie-- not romantic, thrilling or exciting-- but one the family can watch together and think what sacrifices they would make to keep a heritage and a way of life preserved.
I recently rented this movie because I'm a Mel Gibson fan, but before I
I read over the review by Leonard Maltin on these pages and found that his
comment "but Gibson's character is so coldly stubborn that it's hard to
empathize" regarding the character Tom Garvey was pretty
This is not a man so stubborn you cannot empathize with him in the least. Harrison Ford's character in Mosquito Coast was such a man, but this guy is a good man trying to do what's right for himself and for his family and I didn't see him as cold either. Again, look to Mosquito Coast if you're looking for a father who's cold, TOO stubborn and unloving.
If you want to see a good movie about farmers facing adversity from the weather and from their "neighbors" this is a good one to rent. Justly nominated for cinematography, it's a very pretty movie, although I'd have liked to see it on the big screen to get the full effects of the river shots. Sissy Spacek was of course excellent as well.
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.
By 1984, Hollywood must have decided we had been in outer space too long
with the Star Wars Trilogy. They decided to bring us not only back down
earth, but to take us down on the farm with The Green Acres trilogy. In
space of a year they gave us Places In The Heart, with Sally Field,
with Jessica Lange, and this movie The River with Sissy Spacek and Mel
Of the three this is the only one I saw in a theater, and if you're going to view this film, it is best viewed in a theater or on a big screen TV with the DVD. That's not to say you can't otherwise enjoy The River, but what you miss is some beautiful photography by Vilmos Zsigmond, that draws you in from the opening frame and will keep you enthralled throughout. From the opening shots of the grey clouding skies and the first drops of rain dropping gently off the leaves, to the mighty force of the torrential thunderstorm and the raging waters of the river, you are treated to a Cinematographer's delight. Not once, during the first fifteen twenty minutes of The River do you even consider the notion that there are guys out there with hoses spraying the set down, and if they were I sure don't want to know about it. Even after the opening storm has subsided, the film becomes almost like an oil painting of rural America.
Not only is the photography in The River impeccable, it has sound editing that matches it on every level. This sounds like a storm in every aspect, from the rain hitting the tin barn roof, the sound of the river water overflowing it's banks, to the sound Tom Garvey's (Mel Gibson) boots sloshing through the mud. Even the sound of Tom's tractor, as he is anxiously trying to keep the river from overflowing it's banks is meticulously detailed. This film was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for both cinematography and sound editing, and in my opinion, should have won both, having lost out to The Killing Fields and Amadeus, respectively. (It did win a special achievement award for sound effects so go figure!)
Then there's the musical score. One critic complained that John Williams academy award nominated score was a bit overdone, but I think what that particular critic didn't understand is that the musical score perfectly complimented the cinematography. It's beautifully done, and it's a shame that it is never mentioned in the huge lists of John William's film scores.
Okay, so what about the rest of the film? Tom Garvey, his wife Mae (Sissy Spacek in an academy award nominated performance, but lost to Sally Fields for the previously mentioned Places In The Heart) along with their two children Lewis and Beth (well played by Shane Bailey and Becky Jo Lynch), are trying desperately to hold on to their farm through tough times. It doesn't help matters that Tom's crop is washed out at the beginning of the film by a massive flood. Throw into this mix, Joe Wade (Scott Glenn), who wants to see the Garveys fail so that his own Leutz Corporation can buy the farm out so that a dam can be built, a dam that would flood the valley, taking Tom and Mae's farm with it. This is not only a film about a man trying to hold on, but it is also an essay on character, Tom's, Mae's, and Joe Wade's.
Just by listening, we find out that at one time, before Mae and Tom were married, there was something going on between her and Joe Wade, and that Joe ended up with someone else. We are never told much of the details, but we know that anything that Joe Wade does irritates Tom tremendously. There is a scene between Mae and Tom, after Joe has made Tom what seems to be a more than reasonable offer on the farm, he refuses to even discuss it. "Because it's from him?" Mae asks. It is Tom's hesitation before giving her a stock answer that gives him away. He says it is not, but Mae and the audience know otherwise. As you watch this film, it is the subtlety in the performances, that says more here than any of the dialogue which drops only subtle hints about what happened in the past. Joe is on Tom and Mae's minds, even when he's not around.
Though she never says anything to make us think so, we can tell that there are times when being a farmer's wife is beginning to wear on Mae. At one scene taking place at a farm auction, another woman tells her "I hate being a farmer's wife". From the look on Mae's face, at this particular moment in time, she is in agreement. When she is trying to figure out where the money is going to come from to pay Sears, when she can't call a vet when their cow is dying, you can tell Mae is being worn down. As Mae looks around her, when they are at the auction, and sees what is happening to not only herself, but to all the other farmers around her we know what she is thinking, though she hardly speaks.
Some have complained about Mel Gibson's Tom Garvey being too stubborn and unsympathetic. There is another scene at the auction when someone offers to help Tom unload his truck and Tom refuses the offer. Mae grabs the man by the arm and tells this guy that he knows how Tom is not to take it personally. "Yes, just like, his father" he answers. Towards the end of the film, when the River is about to flood once again, we see Tom treating his children more like work hands than anything else, and we can imagine that Tom was raised in much the same way, so though we may not like his stubbornness, we now at least understand why he's that way. If Gibson's performance weren't consistent throughout, then the whole characterization wouldn't have worked.
There are some minor flaws in the film. Most of the things that happen when Tom takes a job as a scab at an iron works plant, are too loaded with heavy-handed symbolism, and unnecessarily so. The end of this film is also a bit of a disappointment. We may not like Joe Wade much, but we never feel any great animosity toward him at any time. The actions he takes in the waning moments, are way over the top in order to bring things to some type of dramatic close. It is not true to what the character had been up to that point, and it unnecessarily makes too much of a villain out of him. Besides, someone who runs a big corporation wouldn't take such actions, as it easily would open them up to a gigantic law suit.
Of the three farm movies that opened in a years time, I think this one is the most underrated and forgotten of the three. I've seen all of them, and though Sally Field's performance in Places in the Heart was good, I think Sissy Spacek's role here was much more difficult, as it required her to do so much in a very subtle way. Then again, I've never thought of the Academy Awards as being much of a judge of anything, let alone who was the best farmer!
Till Next Time, Next Class Please
Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek, are a young Farming family who battles not just the river of the title but also other matters such as the bank threatening to repossess their farm, and Scott Glenn plays a scrupulous land developer who plans to buy the farm to make way for a dam. together the family battles through the hard times in a desperate battle to hold on to their farm. Directed by Mark Rydell who directed such other fine American films 'The Reivers' 'The Rose' 'Harry & Walter go to New York' 'On Golden Pond' 'The River' is still a relevant if not hard to watch film in these downtrodden times. It also represents Mel Gibson at a time he was making quality fare. As usual Vilmos Zsigmond contributes terrific photography.
I enjoyed this movie for the most part, it wasn't fantastic, it was
interesting though and somewhat exhausting, watching how hard this
family works to keep afloat.
Its a slow building movie following Tom and Mae Garvey (Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek) a hardy Tennessee farming couple who must defend their farm against man and nature, constantly one step away from foreclosing or flooding. This is from the early 80's so Mel Gibson is very good looking here as well as doing a decent southern accent. Sissy looks good too.
There are also some interesting scenes in this, one in particular stands out when Tom takes a job at a foundry and a deer enters which then has all the workers surrounding it, planning on killing it and then they just release it. I'm not entirely sure what it was meant to signify?
The ending felt a bit abrupt with yet another flood and a somewhat cheesy conclusion to everything with the outcome of the bad guy land developer (Scott Glen). I was left wondering and then what happens? Probably the same exact circle of events next season. 10/24/15
Tom (Mel Gibson) and Mae Garvey (Sissy Spacek) struggle to keep their
farm afloat after a devastating flood. Joe Wade (Scott Glenn) has a
scheme to build a dam to bring water to his land. To do it, he would
need to buy out all the farmers including the Garveys. Tom needs a loan
but Joe Wade has lined up the bank and political backers against them.
It is the little guy struggling against the big guy. It is also about Tom's single-mindedness. Tom is not necessarily a sympathetic guy. He is stubborn beyond reason. He has a mean streak in him. This makes the simplistic movie structure of small-guy-makes-good not so simplistic. Sissy Spacek is able to soften him image somewhat. There are a couple of great scenes in the mix. The auction scene is the most memorable and heart breaking. The faces in the crowd says it all. The other is the strike. The ending of which is another great scene for a different reason. This starts out yet another small farmer struggle movie. In fact, it's the last of three big such releases of that year. It turns into a man obsessed against the river.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the opening sequence, you can tell this is a movie that is going
to take it's time to tell a story, to introduce, and take you into this
world. What begins as a gentle rain shower turns into a flood, as we
are introduced to the Garveys, rushing about with shovels and bags, and
a bulldozer, trying to save their farm from the rising water. They've
done this before, we see, as Mae Garvey (Sissy Spacek) hands her
daughter the "good quilt" to take upstairs, and gathers family photos
and other irreplacables, putting them out of harm's way upstairs, and
as they head outside into the weather again, we see the flood waters
lapping at the back steps.
The farm has been in Tom Garvey's (Mel Gibson) family for generations, so he's reluctant to sell up and leave, especially because the offer to buy comes from Joe Wade (Scott Glenn), Mae Garvey's former beau, who wants to flood the whole area (in the name of the Almighty Dollar) to build a hydroelectric plant.
But times are indeed tough, and the bank is reluctant to loan any more money, which Tom and Mae desperately need to stay afloat. In desperation, Tom takes a job at an iron-works, but doesn't know until he gets there that he's part of a group of "scabs" brought in to work while the contractors of the iron works are on strike. Ripped away from the idyllic river-front farm, he is unable to leave, lest the contractors see him doing so, and beat him to death without a second thought. 4.50 an hour. 50 hour week. 10 minute "p*ss break" every two hours...you do the math...that's hard work!
Meanwhile, "back on the farm", Mae has her own problems in a scene that still grips my gut to this day: fixing a piece of farm equipment hundreds of metres away from the farm house, she gets her arm trapped in a cog-and-chain, and is unable to free herself, plus she starts bleeding from the wound, really badly. I wasn't expecting such a nail-biting scene in such a seemingly placid film. It was really well done.
Not only that, but she has the renewed attentions of Joe Wade to deal with as he plays "knight in shining armour" to the injured Mae while Tom is stuck at the factory, and lets her know in no uncertain terms that he wants her back, using the "I can look after your kids better than Tom" argument to try to convince her. While obviously the "what could have been" crosses her mind, she loves her husband, and tells Joe to back off.
The scenes between Gibson and Spacek are great. They have some real chemistry and raw emotions you rarely see in films these days. Mel does a great "tough-guy exterior" thing when Joe gives Mae a ride home from the store, but as he comes on to Mae afterwards in the kitchen, we can tell that although he's doing it coz he's attracted to her, he is also doing it because her old flame just gave her a ride home.
All the performances are great, and very real, from the townsfolk shouting "no sale!" at the auction to the grimy iron works factory workers, to Tom and Mae's kids (Shane Bailey and Becky Jo Lynch), who give startlingly believable performances.
This film is a quiet one best watched in the evening, and with the lights off...the velvety cinematography and rich John Williams score will enrapture you from the start to the moving final scene. Someone else on here commented that the photography is like a beautiful old oil painting...I couldn't agree more. Enjoy.
Mel Gibson isn't terribly convincing as a southern farmer and family man trying to hold onto his river-ravaged land; even when covered in soot and wearing overalls, everything about the young, wiry Gibson breathes prosperity. Corporate shady Scott Glenn (in a sleepwalking performance) wants Gibson and wife Sissy Spacek off their land in order to build a dam and flood the valley (it'll mean more jobs), but Gibson refuses to sell out. Sub-plot with Mel taking factory work (after crossing a picket line) is presumably meant to give us a more complete portrait of the man, but it just makes the character seem hard-headed. Upon opening with a lovely series of nature shots courtesy cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, director Mark Rydell immediately loses his footing with a sequence of contrived family action in a rainstorm (underlined by an awful John Williams score to heighten the drama, which has no pay-off). It's all downhill from there, with petulant, milky-skinned Gibson failing to match up with homespun Spacek, and two perky kids who keep playing to the camera. "The River" was released the same year as "Places in the Heart" and "Country", and was easily the weakest 'farm movie' of the lot. Glossy, superficial and dull. *1/2 from ****
Continuing my plan to watch every Mel Gibson movie in order, 8 come to
his first American movie. 1984's The River.
Plot In A Paragraph: Tom and Mae Garvey (Gibson and Sissy Spceck) struggle to keep their farm from the bank, floods and from local financer Joe Wade (Scott Glenn) who wants to buy up all the land, dam a local river which floods and generate some new jobs.
The river was Gibson's first American movie, and he is fine, but is over shadowed by Spaceck and a strong supporting turn from Scott Glenn, who is effectively the movies villain, it is a funny movie as the "Bad Guy" is right all along and Gibson and Spaceck's characters should have listened to him!! He was talking good common sense!! And that's when you know it's a weird move!! If you are rooting for who is essentially the bad guy.
It's watchable, but that's about it.
The River grossed $11 million at the domestic box office to end the year the 72nd highest grossing movie of 1984.
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