The River Wild

The River Wild (1995)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Meryl Streep, Joseph Mazzello, David Strathairn, Kevin Bacon

Curtis Hanson, the director of "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle", brings us the highly acclaimed"The River Wild", a stylish thriller that could theoretically happen to any one of us. The movie’s magnificent scenery and its gorgeous landscape photography, combined with expert footage of rafting, make it stand out among other thrillers visually, while still supplying tons of heart-pounding visceral action in the rafting scenes.

As a birthday present, Gail (Meryl Streep) organizes a rafting trip for her ten year old son (Joseph Mazzello) and her husband (David Strathairn). The trip is also supposed to breathe new life into her shaky marriage, while bringing her son closer to the beautiful landscape she grew up in. Being a former white-water rafting guide, Gail enjoys being back in the peaceful and slow environment of her river. It so happens that all her courage and skills are required when two criminals on the run take the family hostage and hold them at gunpoint during the trip, forcing Gail to raft them through breakneck white-water rapids, out of the reach of the authorities on their heels. During the lengthy ordeal, scripted with lots of twists, Gail eventually gathers the strength to fight and keep her family alive.

Meryl Streep, as usual, gives a strong performance as both mother and courageous rafting expert, underscoring them with exceptional physical abilities. When finally she has to measure up with Kevin Bacon’s character emotionally, mentally, and physically, it becomes obvious that her Gail is always in charge, with the criminals’ fate ultimately in her hands. It is a role perfectly suited for Streep, who has always been exceedingly critical of the dumb and weak portrayal of female characters in major motion pictures. It is also a pleasure to see Kevin Bacon as the bad guy of the movie, and it is impressive how easily Kevin manages to switch from sonny-boy to ruthless criminal in a matter of seconds. Better known for his nice guy roles, Bacon demonstrates exceptional skills and talent in his portrayal, an unexpected yet effective character who makes you love and hate him at the same time.

Although the thriller elements for "The River Wild" are not inventive and familiar, the craftsmanship that went into this movie is absolutely exciting. The story is fresh, suspenseful, and steadily builds tension until finally the story hurls itself to its finale at the same frantic speed as the river’s rapids, leaving the viewer breathless and stunned. It’s notable that this movie shows a mature woman without striking beauty or silicon implants as the story’s hero. It’s a testament that perfectly displays Meryl Streep’s gift to play the ordinary as well as the exceptional.

"The River Wild" is a movie with top-of-the line production values that features some breath-taking photography. Coming as an <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> transfer, this movie has a razor sharp image, with lots of detail and absolutely natural colors and fleshtones. All the delicate and subtle textures of the water, the rocks and the landscape have been captured and perfectly transferred to DVD for this Universal release. There is not the slightest <$chroma,chroma noise> or color bleeding to be found on this disc. Compression is just as flawless with no hint of digital artifacts or <$pixelation,pixelation> anywhere in the image.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score to "The River Wild" is lively, yet sinister at times. It perfectly underscores the events on screen, not distracting from the events while making the beauty of the area seem even bigger and more epic. I would have expected nothing less from Goldsmith, a man who has written more memorable, acclaimed, and classic filmscores than probably anyone else in Hollywood throughout his almost forty-year long career. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack has experienced a careful transfer to the DVD and is very dynamic, rich, and wide. The ambient sounds are nicely and actively spread in the surrounds, helping immerse you in the canyon’s environment. In the death-defying white-water rapids scenes, it becomes especially obvious how well mixed and powerfully rich the soundstage is. The movie comes fully dubbed in English, French and Spanish with selectable subtitles in English and Spanish.

Not unlike his previous "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle", Hanson has created another very real thriller with "The River Wild", that is gripping and visually stunning. It’s a great release that nicely shows DVDs strengths with its extremely natural colors and the high picture quality.