River Runs Through It, A (1992)

Columbia

As directed by Robert Redford, “A River Runs Through It,” is a subdued but handsomely mounted picture, with Oscar-winning imagery by the ace lenser Philippe Rousselot that serves as background for an old-fashioned, mildly engaging family melodrama.

Craig Sheffer's voice-over narration sets the tone and mood for the saga, when we hear: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.” We immediately get the father's passion for fly-fishing, which is imparted to one of two brothers as the kind of sports that has the devotion and fervor of religion

The siblings Norman (Craig Sheffer) and Paul MacLean (Brad Pitt) grow up in a Montana town under the stern but loving guidance of their Presbyterian minister father, Reverend MacLean (Tom Skeritt) and their soft-spoken mother (Brenda Blethyn). The two youngsters represent types familiar from similar literature and film: While Paul rebels against his father, Norman is the more mature and responsible one.

The sprawling, occasionally lyrical saga spans a whole generation, from 1910 to 1935. It depicts how Norman goes away to college and Paul stays in Montana, becoming a newspaper reporter. When Norman returns from college, he's disturbed by Paul's gambling, drinking, and womanizing. But he is helpless, and unable stop his brother's downward spiral, which eventually leads to tragic end. Meanwhile, Norman falls for Jesse Burns (Emily Lloyd), a flapper from an eccentric Methodist family.

This was Redford's secondand weakerfilm in 112 years, after winning the Best Picture and Director for his debut, “Ordinary People,” in 1980. Redford has said that his goal was “to illustrate author Norman Maclean's “words and language and match them with the physicality of the West.”

Rather dull, the film is made with too much reverence and taste for Maclean's short story, adapted to the screen by Richard Friedenberg, and not enough drama or compassion. The family members often just stare at each other without uttering one word. But it's nice to look at the landscape and at the gorgeous face of Brad Pitt, which gets the start treatment through numerous close-ups.

But the family's bucolic episodesand ups and downs–are blandly depicted and acted, and they turn the saga into a stately and decorous film.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot
Screenplay (Adapted): Richard Friedenberg
Original Score: Mark Isham

Oscar Awards

Cinematography

Oscar Context

In 1992, the winners of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar was Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for “Howards End,” and of the Original Score Alan Menken for “Aladdin.”