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  • Widescreen 1.66:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
    English, English - Hearing Impaired
  • 5 Theatrical trailer
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • Interviews

A River Runs Through It

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 118 mins . PG . PAL


Having never read Norman Maclean’s novel of the same name, I have no basis for comparison of the film. This being said, I found thia film very enjoyable and well told. Robert Redford is a fine director and he has put together a film rich in nostalgia and a love for a time and a part of America that has long since disappeared. Set in rural Montana during the first quarter of the 20th century, our story involves the lives of the Reverend Maclean and his two sons, Norman and Paul. As the boys grow from childhood, two distinct personalities become evident in the lads. Growing older, their lives take them along very different paths – one to success and the other into the underworld of American life.

It’s certainly not an unusual story; that of older brother narrating the decline of family, but it has been told with warmth and an obvious love of the original material. Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt play the brothers and work well together, meshing their characters in a manner that both separates and divides them; defines and blurs.

"In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing"

The relationship between father and sons is symbolised frequently in their shared love of fly-fishing. The character of each man comes through gradually in their methodology of fishing and their lives are reflected in the incidents portrayed whilst on the river. It is at once a sweet film, full of yearning for a time long gone, but also a bittersweet reflection on family and the inability to help the people we care about who don’t wish to be helped.

A romance that runs throughout takes a second place to the exploration of the relationship between these three men, though even that relationship is at times left behind in the narration as the story progresses along a plain storytelling path. On the subject of narration, Robert Redford voices the storyteller played by Sheffer in the film, relating the tale from his old age and the same river he still fishes. Whilst this adds a modern element to this older tale, Redford doesn’t quite match Sheffer’s character onscreen and so disconnects the two slightly. As there are some rather lengthy lulls in narration, this doesn’t help us connect the two as readily either.


Well, it starts out just awful. There are grainy black screens and quite a few film artefacts, but both of these grow lesser as the film progresses. Lesser doesn’t mean gone though, and the compression issues of the black screen tend to stick around for most, if not all, of the night scenes, creating the impression of a very light rain falling. This type of noise would not be uncommon on an older videotape and shouldn’t exist on such a fine looking film, as this one is for the most part. The colour is wonderful generally speaking, and Redford has included a great deal of amazing landscapes and mountain shots with summer fields and of course, the river. All flesh tones come across fine and well lit, while all the black areas are true black. There is some loss of detail in some darker regions of the screen, but these aren’t all that common and don’t impede the story at all.

The film has also been transferred from the unusual 1.66:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement which works okay, but a larger screen might have been nicer for some of the fantastic scenery contained within the film.


The sound is rather nice actually and has been well handled, although only presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. There are numerous instances of silence in this film that contain just the gentle burbling of the river and there is no noise or static behind that at all. The dialogue is crisp and well-spoken and exceptionally clear. Sound effects are also presented as well as the river sounds and are just as unobtrusive, though still part of the importance of the audio landscape.

Most of the music within this feature is delivered with subtlety behind the action (or inaction) and is only rarely used to amplify mood, preferring to use the dialogue and acting to do that. This helps create the sleepy feel of America in summertime and in the instances where music has been applied to the story (in bars, for example) the style of the time has been faithfully reproduced, even down to the tinny reverb of banjo music. All in all the sound is well balanced and levels are good, allowing the music to support and not overwhelm.


The first thing that strikes us is the very pretty animated main menu. This is a small piece of footage taken from the film of the moving water of the river and is very peaceful to watch for minutes at a time. There are five Trailers in the extras, one of which is for this film with the others a mixed bag from Umbrella Entertainment. These films are: Cyrano de Bergerac, Bagdad Café, Cinema Paradiso and the Marx Brothers in A Night in Casablanca. Following this we have a Behind the Scenes bit which consists of roughly 16 minutes of spliced together footage from the set with very little sound and no introductions or voiceover. And so, consequently, isn’t very entertaining and resembles camera tests or someone’s home videos.

Finally, there is an Interview Featurette that involves Redford speaking about the film from various sources and interviews. Other cast members also speak about the film and it is well worth the look and certainly the highlight of the limited extras.


This is a remarkably beautiful film with attention to detail obviously paramount. It is well cast and well played, though Brenda Blethyn’s enormous talent is wasted in a rarely used supporting role. Excellent performances from everyone combine to make this a very pleasant film, though one which perhaps could have been more dramatic and had more impact with the inclusion of some of the only-touched-on rougher sides of the story.

However, this film is very nice to look at and even the compression problems mentioned aren’t enough to ruin the experience. A few more extras with a little more info about cast and the writer, or even fly-fishing, would have been appreciated. However, fisherfolk should love it, particularly anyone fond of the series A River Somewhere or anyone after a pleasant and sleepy film that doesn't create too much emotional upheaval.

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      And I quote...
    "The tranquility of fishing is blended into perfect metaphors of life to produce a dreamlike film of true beauty."
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
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          Nintaus DVD-N9901
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          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
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