A River Runs Through It is a 1992 American drama film directed by Robert Redford and starring Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Brenda Blethyn, and Emily Lloyd. It is based on the 1976 semi-autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, adapted for the screen by Richard Friedenberg. Set in and around Missoula, Montana, the story follows two sons of a Presbyterian minister, one studious and the other rebellious, as they grow up and come of age in the Rocky Mountain region during a span of time from roughly World War I to the early days of the Great Depression, including part of the Prohibition era.
|A River Runs Through It|
|Directed by||Robert Redford|
|Screenplay by||Richard Friedenberg|
|Based on||A River Runs Through It|
by Norman Maclean
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures (Global)|
Guild Film Distribution (United Kingdom)
|Box office||$66 million|
The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and was also nominated for Best Music, Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film grossed over $66 million and received positive reviews from critics.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2022)
The Maclean brothers, Norman and Paul, grow up in Missoula, Montana, with their mother, Clara, and their father, Rev. John Maclean, a Presbyterian minister, from whom they learn a love of fly fishing for trout in the Blackfoot River. Norman and Paul are home schooled under the strict moral and academic code of their father. As young men, the brothers steal a rowboat and navigate a dangerous waterfall. Norman leaves to attend college at Dartmouth. When he returns six years later during the Prohibition era and the Jazz Age, he finds that Paul has become a highly skilled fisherman and a hard drinking but fearless investigative journalist working for a newspaper in Helena.
Norman attends a Fourth of July dance and meets Jessie Burns, a flapper whose father runs the general store in Wolf Creek. Immediately smitten, Norman calls Jessie the next morning and sets up a double date. Norman and Jessie go on their first date at the Hot Springs speakeasy. Paul arrives with his date, a similarly hard drinking Cheyenne woman named Mabel, who is deemed inferior by the local white crowd.
Soon after, Norman is called to come bail Paul out of jail after Paul is arrested for hitting a man who insulted Mabel. The Desk Sergeant tells Norman that Paul has angered local criminals by falling behind in his debts from a big poker game at the Lolo speakeasy. A terrified Norman offers to give Paul money if he needs it, but Paul brushes him off.
After Norman and Jessie go on several dates, she asks him to try to help her alcoholic brother Neal, who is visiting from Southern California. Norman and Paul dislike Neal, but at Jessie's insistence they invite him to go fly fishing. Neal shows up drunk with Rawhide, a prostitute whom he met at the only speakeasy in Wolf Creek the night before. Norman and Paul get separated from Neal but fly fish anyway and return to their car hours later to find that Neal and Rawhide have stolen and drunk all the beer, had sex, and passed out naked in the sun.
A humiliated Norman drives an intoxicated and painfully sunburned Neal home, where Jessie is enraged that the brothers left Neal alone with the beer instead of fishing with him. Norman asks Jessie to take him home as he had brought Neal back in Neal's car, and he tells her that he is falling in love with her. Jessie drives away angry but a week later asks Norman to come to the train station to see Neal off. After the train departs, Jessie laments her failure to save Neal from his alcoholism and asks in tears why the people who need help the most will not accept it. After saying that he does not know why, Norman shows Jessie a letter from the University of Chicago offering him a faculty position in the Department of English Literature. Norman tells Jessie that he does not wish to leave Montana and when it becomes clear that it is because of her, her face lights up and she embraces him.
That night, a drunken Norman meets up with Paul and announces his love for Jessie. Paul says they should go celebrate but instead he takes Norman to the Lolo speakeasy and tells Norman that he could use some of his luck. Paul tries to get in on the poker game in the backroom but the dealer will not let him play because he already owes so much. When Paul presses the issue, a scuffle ensues. Paul and Norman go back to their car but Paul tells Norman that he isn't leaving since he is feeling lucky and that he will convince the others to let him play. Norman reluctantly drives off after Paul asks him to go fishing the next day.
Norman is relieved when Paul arrives the following morning as he feared for his brother's life. Norman tells his family that he is going to accept the job in Chicago. Norman, Paul, and their father go fly fishing one last time. Norman urges his brother to come with him and Jessie to Chicago. Paul grins and says he will never leave Montana. Paul hooks a huge rainbow trout that drags him down the river rapids before he finally lands it. Their father proudly tells Paul that he has become a wonderful fisherman and an artist in the craft, much to Paul's delight. They pose for pictures with the fish.
Just before Norman leaves for Chicago, police inform Norman that Paul was beaten to death and dumped in an alley. Norman goes home and breaks the news to his parents. Years later, Mrs. Maclean, Norman, Jessie, and their two children listen to a sermon being given by Rev. Maclean, soon before his own death. Visibly heartbroken, Rev. Maclean preaches about being unable to help loved ones who are destroying themselves and who will not accept help. All that those who truly care for such a self-destructive person can do, Rev. Maclean concludes, is to give unconditional love, even without understanding the reasons why.
In addition, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Van Gravage portray the childhood versions of Norman and Paul, respectively, while director Robert Redford provides the uncredited narration, in the first person voice of a senior Norman.
Although both the book and movie are set in Missoula and on the Blackfoot River, it was filmed in late June to early July 1991 in south central Montana in Livingston and Bozeman, and on the nearby upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers. The waterfall shown is Granite Falls, in the mountains 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Jackson, Wyoming. Filming was completed in early September 1991.
An article published in the Helena Independent Record in July 2000, based on recollections of people who knew both brothers, noted a number of specifics about the Macleans — notably various chronological and educational details about Paul Maclean's adult life — that differ somewhat from their portrayal in the film and novella.
Mark Isham, who would go on to compose the scores to most Robert Redford-directed films, composed the musical score for the film. Originally, Elmer Bernstein was hired to score the film. However, after Redford and Bernstein disagreed over the tone of the music, Bernstein was replaced by Isham. Rushed for time, Isham completed the score within four weeks at Schnee Studio of Signet Sound Studios in Hollywood, CA. Upon release, the music was met with positive reviews earning the film nominations for both Grammy and Academy awards. The A River Runs Through It (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) was released on October 27, 1992.
A River Runs Through It was originally released on VHS on May 19, 1993. It was released on DVD in 1999 and in a deluxe DVD edition in 2005. It was reissued on Blu-ray in July 2009 by Sony Pictures with six extra features including 17 deleted scenes and a documentary titled Deep Currents: Making 'A River Runs Through It' with interview segments of the cast and crew.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 6.79/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Tasteful to a fault, this period drama combines a talented cast (including a young Brad Pitt) with some stately, beautifully filmed work from director Robert Redford." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.
Much of the praise focused on Pitt's portrayal of Paul, which has been cited as his career-making performance. Despite the critical reception, Pitt was very critical of his performance on the film: "Robert Redford made a quality movie. But I don't think I was skilled enough. I think I could have done better. Maybe it was the pressure of the part, and playing someone who was a real person — and the family was around occasionally — and not wanting to let Redford down."
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