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A River Runs Through It (1992)

 
 
 

Fly Fishing by C.R. Redford

I would say the Lord has blessed us all today, just that he's been particularly good to me - Rev. Maclean

Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It (1992)

Adapted from Norman Maclean's popular novel "A River Runs Through It" appears to be a movie without a point. A beautifully crafted look at the life of Norman Maclean from his days being schooled by his father, a Presbyterian minister, through to young adulthood where he and his brother meet women and grow as men in different ways. But there is a point to this story a rather subtle one about fly fishing, a constant in the life of Norman, his brother and father and provides the symbolism for the movie's deeper moments. It actually makes "A River Runs Through It" a little strange because for the most it feels like an easy going nostalgic trip to the author's childhood, an almost coming of age style story which floats along without going anywhere. But then it serves up these deep thoughts about how mastering fly fishing can provide a good grounding for life and the turmoil it brings.

So on face value "A River Runs Through It" feels like a beautiful trip down memory lane to simpler times. We get taken back to Norman's childhood where not only does his father tutor him in English but also along with his younger brother Paul in the art of fly fishing, a pastime which they all enjoy. As such there is a warm sense of nostalgia to it all as the young boys fish, get into fights with other boys and so on, the sort of typical coming of age sort of stuff.

Tom Skerritt in A River Runs Through It (1992)

Even when things move on from Norman's childhood and to him and Paul becoming young men it still has that sense of nostalgia as we watch these young men make their own way in the world with Norman being the more academic going off to college in order to become a teacher whilst the more free spirited Paul enjoys drinking and gambling whilst working at a local newspaper. And whilst there are minor events such as the teenage Norman and Paul staying out all night or ending up fighting each other nothing seems to happen or at least nothing of any real consequence. It just seems to float along content in reminiscing about those simpler times when you could have a bottle of suds and go fishing. There is a knock on to this and it means the rather more eventful ending feels a little out of place, almost manufactured whilst in truth it isn't.

But whilst never appearing to go anywhere there are a surprising amount of life lessons which crop up in the nostalgic tale. And to be honest they are all rather subtle, so subtle at times that they can fly right over your head. Which in a way is quite funny as the river and the fly fishing is so obviously a symbolism for this deeper lessons the fact that their delivery is so subtle is so surprising. It makes "A River Runs Through It" more than just a charming tale and one which reveals a little more of itself each time you watch it, picking up on a point about life that may have floated by like the impressive river.

Adding to the charm is the style which director Robert Redford delivers, from his narration using Norman Maclean's own words to the capturing of the fantastic landscape. There is shot after shot where the natural beauty of the land just takes your breath away and the use of warm sunset's just add to this glorious feel. It maybe a little cliche in using the warmth of a fiery sky to make a scene more powerful but it works every time and in "A River Runs Through It" Redford delivers one of the most stunning sunset scenes I have had the pleasure to watch.

There is an irony that "A River Runs Through It" is remembered for being a Brad Pitt movie and in fairness his blonde hair and smile make a huge impression but a huge reason why it all works comes down to Craig Sheffer who plays Norman Maclean. Sheffer takes us on this journey growing the character so when he returns from his years at Dartmouth College we can see how things have changed, how he grows to realise things about people especially his brother Paul. And at the same time he gets across the element that he understands what his father was teaching him as a young boy despite it feeling like he was being a task master.

In fact Sheffer is so enjoyable that he outshines Pitt as well as Tom Skerritt who has the difficult task of playing the Rev. Maclean. Skerritt's performance is actually very good because he gets across the aspect of being a disciplinarian, a man of hidden emotion yet still gets across the love of the family. And Skerrit is not alone as Emily Lloyd is solid as Norman's love interest Jessie and whilst he doesn't have much to do a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt is entertaining as the young Norman.

What this all boils down to is that "A River Runs Through It" is firstly a very enjoyable movie and on first watching feels nothing more than a nostalgic trip to simpler times when Norman, his brother and father went fly fishing. But it is a movie which reveals a bit more of itself each time you watch it, delivering a subtle coming of age message which links itself to the importance of fly fishing. It may be remembered as one of the movies which made Brad Pitt a star but it is Craig Sheffer who makes it work with his impressive performance as Norman.

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