A River Runs Through It
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Directed by Robert Redford, A River Runs Through It (1992) is a paean to the great outdoors of the American West, a natural, pristine landscape that Redford has helped preserve in his films and in his private life. Telling of a struggle between temperamentally opposed brothers (Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer), Redford's meditative film eschews the conventions of similar Hollywood melodramas by focusing on the way the brothers interact through the ritual of fly fishing, a practice handed down to them from their father, a strict Presbyterian minister (Tom Skerritt). Many critics noted the thematic similarities between A River Runs Through It and Redford's Oscar-winning directorial debut, Ordinary People (1980). Both films are about the challenges that test the strength of one family's bond, specifically, the bonds between fathers, sons, and brothers.
Redford got the bug to adapt Norman Maclean's autobiographical novella in 1987, when the superstar actor/director concocted a plan to produce a series of independent, low-budget films and distribute them through the Cineplex Odeon Corporation. The casting of A River Runs Through It seems to have benefited from the five years it took Redford to wrangle the project from novella to screen, because it was only by the film's October 9, 1992 U.S. release that Brad Pitt had emerged as a rising star. While Pitt's first appearance on the pop culture radar was his sizzling rumble in the backseat of a car with Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise (1991), it was A River Runs Through It that was to be the first quality movie to rest solely on Pitt's untested shoulders. Pitt's charisma and natural charm translated well onto the screen, despite heavy competition from his other co-stars, accomplished actors Craig Sheffer, Emily Lloyd, Brenda Blethyn, and Tom Skerritt. Ironically, Pitt had experience in the proverbial black sheep's clothing as a slightly rebellious child from his family's strict Baptist household. But despite similarities to his own life and the effortless charm that he projects on screen, Pitt would comment later that the pressure to carry the film on his own name was a heavy burden. He told Rolling Stone in a retrospective interview that the role of the wayward son of the tight-knit family was one of his "weakest performances."
Redford's unerring eye in choosing the look of the film eventually earned A River Runs Through It a much deserved Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Director of Photography Phillipe Rousselot had previously served as camera assistant under Nestor Almendros, the brilliant cinematographer of Days of Heaven (1978) and Places in the Heart(1984). Based on the masterful visual compositions that comprise A River Runs Through It, Rousselot was evidently an apt pupil. After asserting himself as one of France's greatest cinematographers in the 1980s, Rousselot moved on to Hollywood and other national cinemas.
Director/Producer: Robert Redford
Producer: Patrick Markey
Screenwriter: Richard Friedenberg, Norman Maclean
Cinematographer: Philippe Rousselot
Music: Mark Isham
Editor: Robert L. Estrin, Lynzee Klingman
Production Designer: John Hutman
Costume Designer: Kathy O'Rear, Bernie Pollack
Cast: Craig Sheffer (Norman Maclean), Brad Pitt (Paul Maclean), Tom Skerritt (Reverend Maclean), Brenda Blethyn (Mrs. Maclean), Emily Lloyd (Jessie Burns), Edie McClurg (Mrs. Burns), Stephen Shellen (Neal Burns)
by Scott McGee