A River Runs Through It

To read Norman Maclean's 1976 novella about families and the relation of fly-fishing to religion and art is to be held in thrall. Robert Redford certainly was. Now he's directed the film version from a script by Richard Friedenberg, who also wrote, yikes, Dying Young. Though Redford doesn't act in the film, he delivers the narration — much lifted from the book — with uncommon feeling. His reverence is both a blessing and curse.

Maclean, who died in 1990, was a retired English professor when he wrote this memoir, and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot invests the film with the shimmering beauty of time remembered. Norman (Craig Sheffer) and his brother Paul (Brad Pitt) live in a Montana home tended by their mother (Brenda Blethyn) but dominated by their father (Tom Skerritt), a Presbyterian minister. Only when fishing the Big Blackfoot River using Dad's metronome casting rhythm are the men united. Faced with tragedy, the father still can't speak his heart. The director of Ordinary People knows this territory, and he draws delicately shaded performances. But in relying on narration, Redford's movie is too little show and too much tell.

From The Archives Issue 189: June 19, 1975
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