'A River Runs Through It': THR's 1992 Review

A River Runs Through It Still - Photofest - H 2017
Robert Redford's most focused behind-the-camera effort yet.

On Oct. 9, 1992, A River Runs Through It was released in theaters. Directed by Robert Redford, the drama about two preacher's sons growing up in rural Montana starred a young Brad Pitt in his first lead role in a major studio film. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.  

Following on the directorial heels of his Oscar-winning Ordinary People and the ambitious The Milagro Beanfield War, Robert Redford has crafted his most focused behind-the-camera effort yet with A River Runs Through It.

A lyrical, poignant drama that uses the angler’s art of fly fishing as a subtle metaphor for life’s many twists and turns, the drama, based on the 1976 autobiographical novella by Norman Maclean, is beautifully shot and acted. Sensitive handling and strong word of mouth could guarantee River a healthy run.

Set in rural Montana between the years 1910 and 1935, the picture (narrated by Redford) follows the lives of a pair of brothers (Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt) whose morally upright, strong Presbyterian upbringing by their stern minister father (Tom Skerritt) and proud mother (Brenda Blethyn), makes it difficult for them to admit to weakness, let alone express anything resembling emotion.

They are closest when father and sons take to the Big Blackfoot River, sharing their love of fly fishing with a Zen-like fervor.

Over the years the two siblings take decidedly different paths, with older, more serious brother Sheffer inheriting his father’s love of words, taking a job as a professor of English; while charismatic, free-wheeling Pitt becomes a successful newspaperman known to hang out with the wrong crowd.

Redford’s cast does the material justice. Sheffer and Pitt are perfectly suited to their respective roles, with the former exhibiting a quiet, controlled intelligence, while Pitt (who made a splash in Thelma and Louise) gives off a devil-may-care sparkle, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young Redford.

Skerritt, meanwhile, has one of his richest roles in years as their emotionally cutoff father; and Emily Lloyd provides another memorable performance as the life-loving, forthright young woman who captures Sheffer’s fancy.

Redford directs with a fluid grace, collaborating with Oscar-nominated director of photography Philippe Rousselot (Hope and Glory, Henry & June) to capture the idyllic, light-drenched aura of Maclean’s early childhood memories. Even the seemingly unexciting fly-fishing sequences take on a magical air worthy of Spielberg.

Completing the effect, Mark Isham’s evocative score hauntingly lingers while never upsetting the film’s delicate balance. — Michael Rechtshaffen, first published on Sept. 14, 1992