Thursday, August 25, 2011
River's Edge. A-
Often when a movie presents a bleak person or society of people it does so to ultimately offer hope for redemption and a better way of life. That's not the case with River's Edge, a truly relentless excursion into urban dwellers' drug-riddled, often violent lives in the eighties. These people aren't criminals, just normal lower class citizens who live in a fantasy where the things that make their lives so messed up are disguised by drugs and a certain freedom to do whatever they want. The kids do drugs, go to school, do more drugs, go home, fight with their families, go out with friends, and get so wound up in this madness that killing someone becomes a definite possibility. It's actually a reality at the beginning of the film, as a kid named Samson has just murdered his girlfriend down by a grassy river edge. He's not reluctant to show his, shall we say, achievement, to best friends Layne (Crispin Glover) and Matt (Keanu Reeves). Eventually a whole gang of high school friends know about the body, but their reaction is not one of shock as much as it is one of confusion, as their troubled lives leave them incapable of properly dealing with this tragedy. Matt, perhaps the most sensitive of the film's characters, is afraid and feels a need to get the police involved. Layne, a riveting person played with explosive enthusiasm by Glover, is taken over by loyalty to Samson, who he has known most of his life. Perhaps the most disturbing truth in River's Edge is the power of influence. Dennis Hopper (he and Keanu Reeves would get together again for Speed a few years later) plays an older fellow who hides out with his drugs and a sex doll that is his only company. People like him influenced Matt's mother, who influences Matt, who influences Matt's little brother, who is already using drugs and guns at age 12. What a sad future he seems destined to have. River's Edge does no try to fix these people, but just acknowledges them. And it also doesn't try to vilify these people. It still sees them as human beings. Matt and his brother are still brothers, friends are still friends, families are still families. In making all the right moves, River's Edge becomes a film that earns as many viewers as possible. It doesn't just show us a life that is so far yet so close to our own homes, but it makes us thankful that we have enough sanity not to get involved in it.