The River Why (2010) based on the book by David James Duncan leaves me wondering exactly that: why?
With William Hurt you have a good start, a very good start; a picturesque river in Oregon doesn’t hurt either. Add some eye candy in the form of romantic sweethearts Amber Heard and Zach Gilford, and surely the filmmakers must have thought they had the perfect formula — and from a cinematic perspective they most certainly do.
However, the one small ingredient missing here is a story. Ah yes, that little bugger called a script.
For a film based on angling, you might expect a lot of red herrings and you get plenty. Instead of settling into an even rhythm with consistent direction in plot, though, there are meanderring storylines that start, suddenly stop, and then re-start in a completely different direction. Too bad, some of the dialog is quite elegant and thoughtful, especially when Gus (Zach Gilford), whose ideal day includes 14.5 hours of fishing, pontificates about a lifetime of passion for the river, “Fishing is nothing but the pursuit of the elusive.”
When he catches something unexpected I mistakenly thought it was a clever twist. Ah, this is interesting! Minutes later, the event is completely forgotten and we’re headed towards youthful romance. This film could have been a whole lot more than just about a boy trying to reel in a “beautiful fishergirl”; hey, there might even be a metaphor here involving a steelhead!
I haven’t read the book, but understand there’s a spiritual element, a quest of sorts as Gus seeks to know find out Why? Unfortunately if it works in the book, here the journey feels more circular, less transformative.
William Hurt’s role is minor and lacks punch. Too bad, he’s eminently watchable; who can forget Body Heat (1981)? For a more recent plum role check out the quirky Rare Birds (2001) set in Newfoundland.
By the end I was the one with “water on the brain.” I felt waterlogged and bamboozled by the lack of plot. Still, the cinematography is absolutely beautiful, and there are some wonderful fly-fishing sequences. There could even be some salient observations too: “a man with a bible is more dangerous than a man with a gun.”
Watch for Amber Heard, a star in the making? Upcoming films have her co-starring with Nicolas Cage (Drive Angry 3D), and with Johnny Depp (The Rum Diary). Not bad for a beautiful fishergirl.
The River Why
2 out of 5 stars
Based on the book by David James Duncan
Directed by Matthew Leutwyler
Starring Amber Heard, William Hurt, Zach Gilford, Dallas Roberts, Kathleen Quinlan, William Devane
Clint says: Watch it only for the beautiful cinematography and emerging starlet Amber Heart. William Hurt’s role is minor and lacks punch.
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