Friday, October 08, 2010

River's Edge (1986)

USA, 99 minutes
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Neal Jiminez
Photography: Frederick Elmes
Cast: Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Roxana Zal, Daniel Roebuck, Joshua Miller, Dennis Hopper, Josh Richman

In the mid-'80s, following a period of rehab from a well-known substance abuse problem, Dennis Hopper made a vigorous return as a screen performer. Most would agree that the best of these is Blue Velvet, which is where I'll take my stand, though others of a perhaps more conventional bent likely favor Hoosiers, which is also pretty good. River's Edge is not in the class of either but it's better than Robert Altman's execrable O.C. and Stiggs, which came out the year before (I still haven't seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which sounds like another memorable performance). The point is that just with this handful of films to go by it's not hard to make a case for Hopper's surprising range—even if he's just riffing on some variation of a demented loon (and, to be sure, that's exactly what he's not doing in Hoosiers) his performances still come with an awful lot of nuance suited to the particulars of the individual screenplays, and it doesn't seem to matter if they aren't the best screenplays. He's still obviously hard at work. In River's Edge, as a grotesque, pitiable man-child among children, Hopper tends to play it low-key. That's probably for a good reason—coherence is generally in short supply around this joint, and by and large the younger these actors are the less believable are their performances. Ione Skye is mostly competent but that leaves us otherwise with Crispin Glover (an annoying chewer of scenery here), Keanu Reeves, and Hopper to deliver the goods, and Hopper's role is relatively minor, though he raises every scene he's in a notch or two. It's actually arguable that the best performance here is turned in by a corpse, the ever tender and loving photography of which brings an unnerving and strangely unifying element to the proceedings—although even that isn't altogether original as that year also saw another movie, Stand by Me, that features a bunch of kids happening on to one. Here, of course, that corpse is the result of one of the gang of disaffected California youths on which the movie is focused killing another. He kills her, smokes a joint, goes to school and yells confessions, and then everybody shows up (at the side of a river, natch) to gawk at the corpse and act out their various designated roles of modern teen alienation and/or burgeoning maturity and engagement. It seemed edgy for its time—soundtrack by Slayer, based on an actual incident in Milpitas, and with that mesmerizing corpse—but maybe time itself has turned its back and eroded that impact. Or maybe I'm jaded now. For the most part it leaves me indifferent.

No comments:

Post a Comment