Top 100 Movies Of The 1990's: #78 The River Wild
Box Office: $46.8 Million
Oscar Nominations: None
Oscar Wins: None
Available To Stream: Starz
The River Wild might be the clearest case yet that this is an individual list of my favorite movies of the 1990's. This was not a critical favorite when it came out. Roger Ebert gave it just two stars and it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of only 57% among critics. It's not like it's that much more regarded now. Jeff D Lowe and KenJac both didn't like it. It has by far the lowest MovieRankings.net score of any movie on this list. I think all of them are very wrong and this is a good movie. I'll do my best to explain why.
Meryl Streep as an action star totally works for me. I believe it's her guiding that raft. Obviously her acting is beyond question but the physicality seems legit as well. Isn't that all you want in an action lead is great actor in these dangerous situations? That's why having Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon elevated it. Same with Bruce Willis in Die Hard. These are very good or great actors that make you care about more than just the stunts.
So not only does this movie have Meryl Streep but you also get Kevin Bacon at his absolute peak. It's no accident that we've already had three Kevin Bacon movies (Tremors and Stir of Echoes) on this list and this certainly won't be close to the last. In the other movies I've covered on this list he's playing the hero. But he might be even more effective as a villain. Bacon is right there with Donald Sutherland as the best actors never to be nominated for an Oscar.
This is a movie that even has an accomplished director in Curtis Hanson. Hanson is probably most famous for L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile but he does a wonderful job here. His camera work of the rapids are fantastic. There is one long shot near the end that starts at the bottom of the rapids and works it way up to where Streep and company are in the raft. It's very effective in showing the route and dangers they are about to face. Hanson's time as an major director was far too short. He got a later start and didn't have his first hit (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle) until he was in his late 40's. Then, he was forced into early retirement in his 60's after getting diagnosed with dementia.
So, you have great actors doing exceptional work with a strong director. I feel this movie also tells a unique story within the details. Yes, the general story itself hits some cliches but whether it be the whitewater rafting or the Streep/Bacon dynamic, there are enough things to make this feel unique and exciting.
In fairness to the critics, this is not a perfect movie. David Strathairn is a very good actor but is part here is either unnecessary or just flat out ridiculous. I enjoy him in the first act playing the similar weak yet condescending role like the one we'd see him in The Sopranos a decade later. Strathairn is great in these parts because he can be intelligent yet cold. It's when The River Wild tries to make him an action star does the movie lose it's way at times. At one point, he hangs off a cliff for no real reason and even outruns the raft going down very fast rapids. It's all stupid. If they had either just left him back in Boston or made the Streep character a single mom, this is a better movie.
At the end of the day, I do find this movie very entertaining. You aren't going to find many action movies with better acting or in such a unique setting. They say you should never make a movie with kids or dogs and never have it take place in the water. This does all three and pulls it off. I'll stick to my guns on this one. The River Wild is a good movie.
78. The River Wild
83. Total Recall
84. Quiz Show
87. Men In Black
90. Three Kings
95. Dirty Work
98. Any Given Sunday