Religion and fly fishing, a combination as natural as peanut butter and jelly. A system requiring faith, patience, and the constant bettering of oneself is the perfect complement to a sport requiring patience, faith, and a pinch of natural ability, often filled with serene moments ripe for introspection.
The combination is solid, but it's not exactly a foolproof formula for riveting cinema. Let's face it: Most audiences can't appreciate a tranquil film full of analogy and deep thought. Where's the gun fire, explosions, gratuitous nudity, and car chases? Norman MacLean obviously didn't cater to what he felt future audiences would want to read in his semi-autobiographical novel 'A River Runs Through It,' and for that, we have been blessed with a beautiful film adaptation of his work.
Brothers Norman (Craig Sheffer) and Paul (Brad Pitt) have grown up under the close tutelage of their Presbyterian minister father (Tom Skerritt), taught not only in writing and religion, but also fly fishing. While Norman seems likely to follow in his father's footsteps, his younger brother is too strong-willed to hew to any path but his own, be that in belief, demeanor, or even his form with a rod.
Returning home from college, Norman seeks out the life he was made for, longing to earn a professorial role, and a place in the heart of Jessie (Emily Lloyd), while his brother, employed with the local newspaper, seeks out only the here and now, craving thrills and a good time, blind to the advice being offered to him from all angles. These brothers have gone down completely different paths, but they still share a love of fishing.
The beauty of 'A River Runs Through It' is that the fishing sequences are, for the most part, few and far between, despite the reputation the film has as being one of the best films made on the subject. The relationship between the two brothers and their father, how they interact and react to and with each other, is the key component of the film. It just so happens that this tale is told through their shared love, the one thing they all have in common, despite Paul's insistence on fishing his own way.
The manner in which the film tells its own tale is somewhat brilliant. Time passes through vintage and replicated photographs that show what happens in the gaps, accompanied by director Robert Redford's rich narration. The most critical scene in the film isn't even shown -- the narration simply tells the tale as a few quiet segments play out onscreen, bringing a true sense of sadness to the film in a classy manner that doesn't forcefully pull on the heartstrings.
Racism, crime and morality, love and loss are all sub-themes in this period piece, creating a much fuller, richer tale. To this day, many have been inspired to pick up a rod and give fly fishing a shot because of the film's beautiful sequences, and perhaps that will be its lasting legacy, aside from the casting of a young Pitt. Not a horrible legacy to leave behind, really, helping catapult one of film's biggest stars, and inspiring fresh new faces to partake in one of the world's oldest, and most challenging sports.
An AVC MPEG-4 encode (in 1080p, in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio) presents 'A River Runs Through It' in a very flattering light. Detail is enhanced greatly from the previous DVD editions, both in mid-range shots and close ups. Skin tones have a pleasant, natural feel (even when "burned"), while colors stay sharp, stealing the show in exterior shots, particularly those on the river. Contrast is good (not extraordinary, not poor), while black levels are accurate, and don't fluctuate. Edges are clean and pure, while the grain level isn't altered, staying at a healthy shade, occasionally getting heavier for dark scenes.
The film is already quite a few years old (as evidenced by Pitt's fresh looking baby face), and there are times when the age shows, like in fly over shots that lack strong clarity, with the occasional softer shot mixed in, while delineation seems to struggle, with detail blending in the darker sequences that lack any good lighting. The entire viewing experience hinges on the presentation of the key moments in the film, those involving fly fishing, and they all sparkle.
A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is the only English option on this film, and it does a solid job bringing the film to life, though it is obviously limited by the source.
Dialogue is the key element of this mix, with narration and character interaction telling the tale, and for the most part, this vital portion of the sound mix is strong. Words are mostly clear, but occasionally have problems. At times a weird balance issue has water overpowering dialogue, and another has dialogue muffled by insect chirping, while higher pitched sounds, like yelling, sounded bizarre, partially muted. Some line readings by Sheffer are mumbled, making comprehension difficult. Crowded areas sound appropriately busy, while sparser moments have a nice natural bit of ambiance adding some flavor.
The surround speakers aren't exactly active in this sound mix, though they do a solid job when called upon. In fishing sequences, the entire sound field has a tendency to flow like the water, putting one in the middle of the river, ankle deep along with the brothers. There are a few bits of directionality and localized effects, though they are sparse at best. Bass doesn't play a crucial role in this mix, hardly registering a whisper, though it occasionally provides some influence when called upon.
The previous releases of 'A River Runs Through It' were less than sparkling examples of the concept of "loading" a DVD, as they were as sparse as could be in the supplement package. As such, since the "talent bios" are not found on this release, none of the DVD extras found their way onto this Blu-ray release. But fear not, and keep on reading, as there are some extras to be found here.
Fishing, brotherly love, and family values in Montana, not exactly the ideal equation for a great film, but viewers might be surprised how interesting and involving 'A River Runs Through It' is. With strong video, average audio, and an actual supplement package (a first for this film), all the pieces are here, waiting for you to hook this Blu-ray, or at the very least do a little catch and release action (give it a rent).
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