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River's Edge [DVD]
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Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover star in this American crime drama. Teenager John Tollett (Daniel Roebuck) strangles his girlfriend, Jamie (Danyi Deats), and leaves her body beside the river. As word gets out among the young people of the town, some are torn between keeping faith with their peers or exposing the crime and risking retribution. Matt (Reeves) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) are uncomfortable keeping silent, while speed freak Layne (Glover) believes that as John's friends they should help him cover-up the murder. Layne and John turn to Feck (Hopper) for advice, the local drug dealer and himself a murderer.
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Crispin Glover is the main proponent who wants to protect Roebuck ,the offender on the grounds that he is alive and needs help while the girl is dead ,the total emotional viciousness that surrounds this group of dope smoking ,mid -stratum teenagers is both shocking yet eye -opening since they have all made a lame excuse ,as to why they are not so upset at their friend's murder.
The statement that since thy knew both the parties and cannot be objective about the act rings hollow to the audience but is totally convincing to them .
Keanu Reeves is a more conscientious protagonist ,who informs the cops about the murder ,but he too is more concerned about dope and making love in the park to Clarissa-Iona Skye ,the girl who claims she cannot cry for her friend's death though she sheds tears for the trashy tragic dramas on television .
The story evolves as Dennis Hopper enters in a brilliant psychotic portrayal of an ex-murderer ,who had killed his lover 20 years ago ,as she cheated on him and is now a lonely hermit living with an inflatable doll for company out of sheer repentance .
He is solicited by Roebuck and Glover,to help them out ,yet even he is shocked at the indifference and lack of emotion the murderer feels for his victim .
The theme of a generation gap ,where one generation is totally removed emotionally is brilliantly explored here and extended to include Keanu Reeves younger brother ,a rather disturbed 12 year old, who is a witness to the crime and blackmails the murderer in one scene for drugs for keeping silent .
The adolescent tone of the casual horror and moral ennui is apparent throughout but it is not sermonised or rushed ,rather languidly observed in a brilliantly performed social drama which discusses the life in small town America, with macabre shots of the dead nude body which is of no consequence to anyone .
The confrontation between Keanu and Tim ,his 12 year old brother ,bent upon fratricide is spell-binding,but it is Dennis Hopper as the brilliant nemesis,who repents his past misdemeanour of murder by punishing himself ,who steals the honours with Tim Hunter as the intricately observant director ,both of whom give a multi layered texture to this account of brutal indifference set in Mid western America ,with a deep understanding of generation gap and human behaviour at it's best and worst .
The conclusion of who is right or wrong or evil or just is left for the audience as Dennis Hopper delivers his final monologue ,but this is a dark ,engaging and horrendous portrayal of humanity on screen in great cinematic style with bleak outdoors shots of the misty river and the muddy waters which keeps flowing and churning, while this great character study evolves in a small town in mid -america in perpetuity of loss of innocence brought about by a bizarre human lack of emotional response .
River's Edge deals with a morale dilemma of either protecting a friend or betraying them because you believe its the right thing to do.
The protagonist (Matt) played by Keanu Reeves, really struggles with this dilemma causing a rift with one of his friends, Layne (played by Glover) I found Keanu performance was believable unlike some other films he has appeared in. The late Dennis Hopper for me always gives a performance of such rawness and unpredictability, always worth watching; wether the film he appeared in was poor or good.
It is great to see this gem of a movie has been released on DVD.
River's Edge is extremely overlooked- apart from Uncut-magazine (who have championed it over the years and published the odd article on it)- it has sunk from the radar. River's Edge is very much part of the culture created by the true Nevermind (as in Replacements) that Kurt Cobain got the credit for. Its depiction of alienated, nihilistic youth fits alongside such books as Garden State (Rick Moody), The Rules of Attraction (Bret Easton Ellis), & Secret History (Donna Tartt). River's Edge seems to me the fore of great teen-films that came in the wake of punk (US style)- Out of the Blue, The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia, Permanent Record, Heathers, Blue Velvet, Rumblefish, Twin Peaks, Drugstore Cowboy- as a film it perfectly captures the generation under Reagan.
It's also sadly based on an actual murder which occurred in 1981- which makes it a precursor of Larry Clark's excellent Bully (2001) which revolved around nihilistic teens and murder. River's Edge's soundtrack- which is in need of reissue- is another highlight, fusing the metal of Slayer with the underground-punk of The Wipers. It's hard not to think of the music coming out of America at the time- Meat Puppets, Screaming Trees, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Big Black, Scratch Acid, Husker Du, Replacements, Minutemen, Dead Kennedys etc. River's Edge seems to be the cinematic equivalent of the unsatisfied who said nevermind. William Faulkner if he'd dug The Dead Boys...
The film itself?- surprisingly minimal in terms of story: a boyfriend murders his girlfriend, shows his friends, who mostly do nothing, another murder occurs...and that's it! The body on the River's Edge seems to predict Laura Palmer, and director Tim Hunter would go on to direct several episodes of the Mark Frost-David Lynch cult-TV-series (Frederick Elmes, who has worked with Lynch several times is the cinematographer). The performances are natural and uniformly excellent- within the cast is Ione Skye (Gas Food Lodging, Say Anything), Keanu Reeves (the moral centre here!) & a key performance by Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Willard), whose skewed take on things and perfectly stoned demneaour are ideal to the tale here (the soundtrack is mostly set to Glover's Layne driving round in his VW wasted!). River's Edge also contains another key performance from Dennis Hopper- this one feels somewhere between his turns in Blue Velvet (also 1986) and Jesus'Son (2000)- Hopper's drug-dealer Feck tends to hang around with his rubber-doll partner Ellie (a scene in a 7-11 where he dances around in the background as murderer Samson threatens a clerk with a gun over the sale of a beer is both disturbing & hilarious!).
River's Edge is one of the key films of the 1980s- one that warrants a wider-viewership than the curious Keanu-fan or cultish-Crispin-admirer. Life is a movie it seems, and the frequent statements that life feels like a movie throughout River's Edge highlights why this film is so significant (Natural Born Killers pre-empted by a decade then!). One scene in particular summarises this film and the generation it represents, Layne (Glover) is driving to his usual metal, stoned, and following his skewed take on the morality of the murder of peer Jamie, he states "I feel like I'm in a Chuck Norris movie- ya know????"
A cult-classic and my favourite film of the 1980s...
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