Thursday, February 13, 2014

RIVER'S EDGE (Film Review)

RIVER’S EDGE: A Film Review
Daniel Skye (Randy Benivegna)

          Directed by Tim Hunter, River’s Edge is a gritty American classic that many have either forgotten or merely haven’t yet experienced. It is an astonishing portrait of the MTV Generation, a generation of youth afflicted by apathy and indifference.
Before I delve any deeper into the subject at hand, I should clarify this is not a movie for everyone, but it is a personal favorite of mine. I have viewed this film many times with different people. Some have loved it; others hated it, while other people have walked away with mixed feelings towards their first viewing. No matter how you feel, one thing is certain. If you watch it from beginning to end, it’s bound to leave an impression on you.
Made in 1986, the film slipped through the cracks commercially, receiving little attention upon its first release, despite positive reviews from critics, including the thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. Only through the magic of technology has the film become available through the years on a larger platform. You can now rent it, purchase it on DVD, or catch it on Netflix Instant from time to time.
The film centers mainly around two hapless stoners named Matt and Layne, played by Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover respectively. When their friend “John” (Daniel Roebuck) shows up to school one day and casually confesses to the murder of his girlfriend, they naturally don’t believe him. So John offers to show them the body.
John’s real name is Samson Tollet, but they call him John because his last name sounds like “toilet.” For those of you that don’t get the joke, a john is slang for a toilet.
Dragging them up to the river’s edge, John nonchalantly directs them to the pale, naked body of Jamie (Danyi Deats). By their side are fellow friends Mike (Phillip Brock), Tony (Josh Richman), and Clarissa. Clarissa is played by the debuting Ione Skye, who later went on to star opposite John Cusack in the film Say Anything.
While some appear shocked at the sight of a lifeless Jamie, others appear as indifferent as John himself. Layne claims he cares about Jamie, but he cares about John too. And John is still alive. Therefore, Layne believes the group should do everything in their power to protect him and see that he doesn’t go down for this.
But John’s apathy and his reckless ways hinder every attempt of Layne’s to deal with the situation, leaving Layne to tend to most of it himself. Instead, Layne opts to leave John with Feck, so he can lay low while Layne sorts everything out.
          Dennis Hopper plays the gun-toting Feck, an eccentric recluse who lives in hiding with a life-size blowup doll named Ellie. How the teens became aware of Feck is never made clear to the audience, but one thing is made clear. Feck is their main marijuana hookup.
John and Feck have something in common. Feck killed a girl too, as he doesn’t mind sharing with the teens. He was in love. And although his gun rarely leaves his side, he hasn’t fired it since that fateful night.
The situation is complicated by Matt’s troubled younger brother, Tim (Joshua John Miller), who saw John at the river, as well as Jamie’s body.
Layne moves Jamie’s body and the crime goes unreported for a brief period before someone finally grows a big enough conscience to step forward. Racing against the clock, Layne tries to figure out the rat and cover all their tracks; while John proves to be a handful for the oddball Feck. And Matt is tasked with looking after Clarissa, Layne’s girlfriend, as Layne handles business. And Matt does more than look after sweet Clarissa.
As John and Feck abnormally bond over beer and bullets, Layne is picked up by the police and questioned about the murder of Jamie. Meanwhile as Matt and Clarissa wake early morning in the park all cuddled together in a sleeping bag, they hear a gunshot that echoes through the area.
Shocking, daring, and often unsettling, River’s Edge is a film that you will sit and contemplate long after the credits are rolling. Neal Jimenez wrote the script (and named most of the characters after his high school buddies) based partially on true events. For the sake of protecting the victims, I won’t list names but the story is out there for those who want to know. Looking past this fact, Neal managed to make his script stand out and really captured the teenagers’ lack of concern, passion, and enthusiasm for life. As well as their reckless, drug and alcohol fueled ways.
Now, onto the performances. If I can speak freely, I’ve never been a huge Keanu Reeves fan. I just don’t get the appeal. But to each his own I suppose. However, I enjoyed his role in this film. His relationship with Tim, his mom, and sister alone is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Not to mention some of the ridiculous things he says to his mother: “Got any extra pot?” Ione Skye was beautiful and handled her first role well. It’s a shame she never went on to do more.
Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover were the two main standouts here though. As far as Glover’s performance goes, you’ll either hate his character or love it. I fall in the latter category and rather enjoyed his jerky, tweaked out portrayal of Layne. Although it’s never shown in the film, it’s implied that Layne is a speed freak, which explains a lot of the things he says or does. I was born in 1987, but I’ve talked to a few people that grew up in the 80’s and saw this film and they said his portrayal was quite accurate. As a fan of Glover, I’d say this is one of his best roles.
Hopper channeled the darkness he showed in films like Blue Velvet to play the tormented, misunderstood Feck. It would be years later that he’d go on to play a different psychopath in Speed, also alongside Keanu Reeves. But in this film, Hopper nails his role perfectly. He almost seems to understand Feck more than the characters or the audience ever will. And that’s not only a little unnerving, it’s also the mark of a great actor.

On a scale of one to ten, I give River’s Edge an eight. Depending on how you look at it, River’s Edge can be an American classic or an American nightmare. The only way to find out is to see it and judge for yourself. Fans of the band Slayer will be in for a treat as well because half the soundtrack is comprised of Slayer songs.

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