R, 99 min.
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Neal Jimenez
Starring: Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck, Joshua Miller, Dennis Hopper, Roxana Zal, Josh Richman, Philip Brock, Tom Bower, Constance Forslund, Leo Rossi, Jim Metzler
Tim Hunter’s “River’s Edge” was such a staple of my teenage years that I was almost afraid to revisit it and possibly find that it was not as good as I had remembered. I’ve been trying to see it again for several years, I even considered purchasing it on a whim, something I gave up doing when my children started sucking up all my money. I found it on one of my streaming services and the mood seemed right, so…
It wasn’t as good as I remembered. It was immensely better. There was so much to this movie that I never recognized in high school. At that time, I connected with the misunderstood nature of the teens depicted here, but I didn’t quite feel as apathetic as they seemed to be. The story follows a group of friends trying to figure out how to cope when one of their group murders his girlfriend. None of them respond with the horror that we’re trained and told is the proper reaction to such a development, but they all deal with it in different ways.
The scene where a teacher tries to impress upon his students how passion drove his generation to protest the Vietnam War is a key to understanding just what these kids are going through. As members of Generation X, these kids have grown up in a time of prosperity, however none of them are really from that middle class setting that thrived so well during the early 80s. The hero lives with his single mother, little sister and brother. His mother’s boyfriend is presented as a mooch and also lives under the same roof. Little respect is shown by the children toward the adults, however little respect is commanded by those same adults. The mother behaves just like one of the children herself and the boyfriend postures as an authority figure, but offers little support or guidance as a parent.
The teacher is right in his assessment that apathy has gripped this generation of brats who need for little, even at the lower economic levels. However he misses the truth of the situation in which they find themselves as the adults have harvested the apathy within their children. Curfews are a thing of the past, parents are barely present in their children’s lives, and beyond pedantic history teachers they must forge their own lessons in life. Meanwhile, the conveniences of the richness of the decade trickles down to their economic level through convenience stores, dilapidated yet functioning cars, phones in their bedrooms, and the freedom to do pretty much whatever they want. They know they don’t see all the benefits of Reganomics, but they taste enough of it to know they want it but have no outlet to engage this on an intellectual level. No wonder they are apathetic. How else do they survive such a world?
The kids do know right from wrong, however slow they are to act upon it. Two performances shape the majority of the film’s portrait of these kids. Matt provides the more grounded and contemplative reaction. As played by Keanu Reeves in an early glimpse into the misunderstood depths of the actor, Matt is by far the most mature of the very broken family unit described earlier. The other is the manic and passionate Layne, one of Crispin Glover’s best and biggest roles. Layne’s passions seem to be learned from bad movie and television clichés. He squawks lines like, “We’ve got to test our loyalty against all odds.” He even compares their situation to a movie. He’s so intent on his trumped up loyalty notions to protect his friend that he never stops to think of the life that friend took.