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Making the leap from author to filmmaker is a tricky proposition. No less a literary personage than Norman Mailer demonstrated the pitfalls with such cinematic disasters as Maidstone and Tough Guys Don’t Dance. Making his feature debut, YA author N.D. Wilson similarly flounders with The River Thief, a hoary melodrama revealing the filmmaker’s inexperience.
Set along the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest, the story concerns Diz (Joel Courtney), a disaffected teen who gleefully steals from whoever he can while wandering throughout the region. Whether casually purloining items from a pawn shop or skipping out on a meal at a small-town diner, Diz displays absolutely no compunction about his larcenous behavior. After committing the latter offense, he becomes acquainted with the disgruntled waitress, Selah (Raleigh Cain), and her doting grandfather Marty (Tommy Cash, younger brother of Johnny, making his first big-screen appearance).
Refusing Marty’s generosity, Diz tells him, “I don’t do gifts.” But because of his attraction to Selah, he takes the elderly man up on his offer to join him and his granddaughter at their home for dinner.
Diz also finds himself in possession of a cool $1 million belonging to the town’s crooked sheriff (Paul Johannson) and his drug-dealing cohort (Bas Rutten, using his MMA experience to glower convincingly). When the newly flush Diz showers Selah with gifts in an effort to woo her, it attracts the attention of the criminals who will stop at nothing to get their loot back.
The film’s storyline is infused with religious overtones, with Marty offering Diz lessons about the redemptive aspects of gratitude and frequently breaking out into renditions of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” in a fragile, gravelly voice. Writer/director Wilson unsuccessfully combines the various thematic elements, including the thriller and teen romance storylines, with the result that the film suffers from wild tonal inconsistencies. The climactic plot revelation is far more groan-inducing than effective.
Thanks to the widescreen lensing effectively capturing the beauty of the scenic Snake River environs, the film looks terrific, with Courtney delivering a charismatic turn as the teenage drifter. But it’s not enough for The River Thief to come anywhere close to capturing your imagination.
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media
Production company: Gorilla Poet Productions
Cast: Joel Courtney, Paul Johansson, Bas Rutten, Raleigh Cain, Tommy Cash
Producers: Aaron Rench, N.D. Wilson
Executive producers: Darren Doane, Brian Oxley, Sally Oxley, Kjell Christophersen
Director of photography: Andy Patch
Editor: Dane Saxon
Costume designer: Terra Stuart
Composer: Eli Beaird
Not rated, 87 minutes
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