A farming family battles severe storms, a bank is threatening to repossess their farm, and there are other hard times in a battle to save and hold on to their farm.A farming family battles severe storms, a bank is threatening to repossess their farm, and there are other hard times in a battle to save and hold on to their farm.A farming family battles severe storms, a bank is threatening to repossess their farm, and there are other hard times in a battle to save and hold on to their farm.
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
- Jul 23, 2003