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USA 1986
Directed by
Tim Hunter
99 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

River's Edge

River's Edge is one of those films that stands out from the crowd yet whose promise did not bear fruit. Writer Neal Jimenez wrote other films,  director Tim Hunter has since had a busy career in television, top-billed actor Crispin Glover has been equally busy as a character actor.  Only Keanu Reeves, appearing in his first major screen role has gone on to bigger, but very few of them, better things.

Essentially a troubled  teen movie, a genre that was so popular in the 1980s but River’s Edge is a far cry from the John Hughes style that benchmarked the decade and is more of throwback to the social commentary approach of  Rebel Without A Cause.  The film opens with a kid (Joshua John Miller) dropping a doll into a river before the camera pans across to where John (Daniel Roebuck) sits with the naked body of his girlfriend whom he has just strangled.  The film, which is loosely based on a similar 1981 case in Milpitas, California, then follows John as in a semi-stunned state as he grabs a couple of beers, then tells his friends what he has done and takes them to see the body.  No-one knows how to react and only Layne (Glover) shows some kind of willingness to resolve the fracture that John has opened in their hazy slacker existence by his very real act.

River’s Edge is an intriguing film because it takes the usual elements of the troubled teen movie, generational alienation, peer pressure, drug and alcohol use and sexual experimentation and a pervading sense of anomie to its lower middle-class setting and bring them together around sthe galvanizing presence of the murdered girl who no-one seems to really care that much about.

What make the film intriguing even more than the presence of the naked purple-lipped corpse isthe somewhat offbeat almost blackly comic approach to the story. Thus Dennis Hooper turns up as one-legged drug dealing ex-biker (there is an explicit reference to Easy Rider in the film) with an inflatable doll for a girlfriend, a substitute for the real girlfriend whom he brags about having killed, an act which gives him a sense of kinship with John.  There there’s Tim, that 12 year old we saw at the beginning of the film who was killing his little sister’s doll and who with his same aged friend steal a car and eventually a gun with the intention of killing Matt (Reaves), his older brother.  And through it all Layne jerks around like a speed freak and laid-back Matt tries to get with sweet  Clarissa (Ione Sky Leitch).

One can’t help but feel that Hunter was very lucky with this film. It could have well been a disaster, but somehow the off-kilter approach suggests  the alienation, disaffection and confusion  of his young subjects with compelling credibility.




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