Redford's 'River' swept along by the undercurrent

May 21, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

(Columbia TriStar, rated PG, 1992)

Robert Redford has accomplished with his director role in "A River Runs Through It" what few veterans have managed: He has created a deep sense of feeling.

It's not that the film evokes a specific emotional response from the viewer, although it does that as well; it's that the film itself is the celluloid crystallization of the indescribable deep-seated feelings that drive most everyone but are seldom consciously acknowledged.

If an alien were to land on the planet and you were at a loss to verbally convey the emotion of love for a family member and all the unspoken bonding, lack of understanding, joy and frustration that that entails, you could show the creature this film and he would immediately comprehend.

This is also a wonderfully soft-spoken character study of a Scottish family headed fairly rigidly by a Presbyterian minister (Tom Skerrit) living in Montana who believes fly-fishing is as close as one can get to communing with God while on earth. Not unexpectedly, his two sons pick up the fishing but aren't so committed to religion.

When the older son, Norman (Craig Sheffer), returns from college, he finds that his younger and more rebellious brother Paul (Brad Pitt) has become a hard-drinking newspaperman. Although the direction their youngest son has taken is not approved of, the parents never raise the issue and speak only about what a great storyteller and fisherman the handsome young man has become. In fact, they seem to make little effort to relate to either of their children but remain devoted to them in a parental way.

Although Norman, who is falling in love and is about to accept an offer to teach in Chicago, refuses to ignore his brother's dangerous downward spiral, he is no more capable of confronting him than his parents because of his inbred lessons of silence regarding such matters and his inhibiting admiration for his charismatic and daring sibling.

Though there is a bond between the brothers and between each son and his father, it is clear that none of them shares common passions or personalities. Only while fly-fishing, which Paul has developed into an art form, do the three men appear to enjoy complete unspoken harmony.

It's unfortunate that the film finally resorts to tragedy, because it already was uniquely powerful and might have been more so had the family spent their entire lives together without ever truly understanding one another, yet sharing a common source of strength.

Nonetheless, the point is made anyway when the father delivers his final sermon. "It is those we love and should know who elude us," he says. "But we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding."

Mr. Redford narrates the film as the voice of a middle-aged Norman. His voice, however, as well as some of the on-screen characters, is so soft that you find yourself straining to hear many of the lines. Despite cranking up the volume and rewinding repeatedly, there are some that remain annoyingly indistinguishable.

In a somewhat distracting bit of casting, we can't help but be confused by Brad Pitt, who could be a clone of a young Redford in both looks and mannerisms. Mr. Redford's narration is the voice of the brother played by Mr. Sheffer, who looks nothing like Mr. Redford. Thank goodness Mr. Redford doesn't show up on screen or we'd really be scratching our heads.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

(LIVE, rated R, 1992)

One can frequently sense when an actor feels as if he is getting the opportunity to really sink his teeth into a meaty, challenging role. Such is the case with "Glengarry Glen Ross," in which the viewer feels that way about each member of the eclectic ensemble cast.

Each could have been nominated for an Academy Award, but only Al Pacino was recognized for his supporting role. Mr. Pacino plays one of several real estate salesmen who is threatened with the loss of his job if he doesn't meet his monthly quotas.

In fact, Mr. Pacino's entrance does not come until well into the picture. Until then, Ed Harris dominates as a self-serving hotshot who tries to take advantage of one of his co-worker's (Alan Arkin) passivity by baiting him to steal some prime sales leads.

But it is Jack Lemmon who provides the real gyroscoping here, as an aging salesman who is long past his prime but is hanging on because he apparently failed to capitalize on opportunities along the way.

Each actor takes center stage at different moments in the film and each hits a home run. Even Kevin Spacey, as the unilaterally despised office manager, makes the most of his role.

But the bedrock of the film is the discomforting believability of David Mamet's screenplay (from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play) PTC about the extremely manipulative and downright dishonest sales tactics these guys use on unwitting and helpless prey. They make used car salesmen look saintly by comparison.

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