The River Wild
1994 Directed by Curtis Hanson. Starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, Joseph Mazzello, John C. Reilly.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Sept. 30, 1994
There's something empowering about watching Meryl Streep navigate the rapids in The River Wild. Directed by Curtis Hanson (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Bedroom Window), this film marks Streep's first full-fledged action picture. The action genre is one that could benefit from some strong female role models. However, Streep's fine command of the wild river is not enough to steer this film. Streep plays Gail, a retired river guide who, with her estranged husband Tom (Strathairn), takes their 10-year-old son Roarke (Mazzello) on a white-water rafting trip. The family meets up with two other river travelers, Wade (Bacon) and Terry (Reilly). When Wade and Terry lose their guide and need help getting down the river, the family reluctantly invites them along, a move Gail and Tom will later regret. Tensions run high from the beginning of the film as Tom returns home from work to cancel out of yet another family vacation. The dynamics of Gail and Tom's marriage are defined in not-so-subtle ways. The camera's perspective identifies us with Gail while, in many of the scenes, Tom remains in the background or sitting down below Gail. Because of the physical conditioning that Streep had to do for the film's rowing scenes, she appears toned and physically larger than in past roles. Strathairn, a slight man to begin with, looks positively wimpy next to Streep in most of the rafting scenes. Whether Hanson intended this physical difference as a metaphor is difficult to say, but it seems overdetermined. Bacon, whose character is supposed to be off-kilter, seems unsteady even in his charming moments. Mazzello is fine as the young son; his acting finesse demonstrates his previous film experience, most notably as Tim in Jurassic Park. There is no doubt in my mind about Streep's spectacular acting ability, but her delivery in The River Wild is uneven. Perhaps the dialogue is stilted, but Streep plays the role as if caught in one giant mood swing. Strathairn is effective as Gail's beleaguered husband, although he seems capable as an actor of a more complex role. Whitewater rafting enthusiasts may find this film entertaining; the cinematography and the stunts (performed almost 90 percent by the actors themselves) are impressive. As an action thriller, though, The River Wild is predictable and a disappointment. The trailer for the film is more gripping than the feature itself.