The River Sorrow: Cannes 2011 Review

Ponderous thriller sunk by amateurish dialogue and incongruous and blunt aesthetic instruments. 

Intriguing premise of a police detective suspected of murdering scores of former lovers suffers from amateurish dialogue and Ray Liotta's listless performance.

CANNES -- Ray Liotta stars as a pudgy Seattle police detective who is trapped between a serial killer and his department in this murder thriller. Also featuring Christian Slater and Ving Rhames, The River Sorrow should dredge up some cable interest based on their recognizable names, but the film is a quagmire of lousy dialogue and inconsistent technical contributions.

Indicative of the atonal mishmash of this thriller, the title itself — The River Sorrow — is likely to make audiences think it is some sort of weepy melodrama or a depressing documentary.

The film’s intriguing premise is that a law enforcement official (Liotta) is linked to a murderous rampage in the Seattle area in that the victims are all former lovers of his. Indeed, the solid detective sewed some wild oats in his bachelor days and notched nearly 100 one-night stands from his teens to marriage at 40.

Now, he’s a devoted husband and stay-at-home type. That connection draws suspicion and some hostility from his department, as well as ridicule from an obnoxious F.B.I. Agent (Slater) whose personal attacks are so vicious as to be nonsensical. And, compounding the scorned detective’s duress, his mother dies. Indicative of the film’s lack of emotional sensitivity, Liotta’s character shows as much emotion over his mother’s death as if he was informed his car needed a tune-up. Indeed, Liotta’s overall performance could be categorized as listless.

It’s true that screenwriter Steve Anderson has concocted a brainy serial-killer thriller, but he has little flair for character nuance. The shortcoming manifests mostly in the boneheaded dialogue. In particular, Christian Slater is stuck with such hostile and hammer-headed lines that his performance is a one-note embarrassment.

On the plus side, the killer that Anderson has created is a well-crafted blend of Ted Bundy and a religious fanatic. Accordingly, Michael Rodrick’s portrayal of the murderer is well-blended, both charming and scary. 

Director Rich Cowan moves the story along nicely but the technical contributions are uneven. Deadening the whole enterprise is Pinar Toprak’s dreary musical score. Neither bolstering this generic piece with either tension or  malevolence, the score is draining, capsized by a depressing violin leitmotif. It screeches away with such a dispiriting voice that the one would think this was an early Ingmar Bergman film. Indeed, this North by Northwest Entertainment certainly could have used Bernard Herrmann’s composing talents.

On the plus side, Rhames is sympathetic as Liotta’s fatherly superior officer, one of the few three-dimensional characters in the story.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Market
Production company: North by Northwest Entertainment
Cast: Ray Liotta, Christian Slater, Ving Rhames, Gisele Fraga, Sarah Ann Schultz, Michael Rodrick, Melora Walters
Director: Rich Cowan
Screenwriter: Steve Anderson
Producers: Steve Anderson, Rich Cowan, Sarah Ann Schultz, Daniel Toll, Taye Voye
Director of photography: Dan Heigh
Production designer: Vincent DeFelice
Music: Pinar Toprak
Costume designer: Lisa Caryl
Editor: Jason Payne
No rating,  92 minutes