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MGM Studios DVD presents
"You kill a person... they don't let you forget. They stick after you like ghosts. They don't believe you when you say you're sorry. They want you to pay somehow."
DVD ReviewRiver's Edge tells the story of a teen-aged girl's murder and the events that follow, based on a real-life incident in California. Her boyfriend "John" (real name Samson, nickname based on his last name, Tollett) brags to his stoned high school friends about the murder, taking them to see her nude, strangled body lying on a remote riverbank. Self-appointed group leader Layne (Crispin Glover) takes it upon himself to save John by covering up the murder, enlisting the help of Matt (Keanu Reeves), Clarissa (Ione Skye Leitch) and a half-mad fugitive drug dealer named Feck (Dennis Hopper). Internal tensions threaten futures and lives as Matt wrestles with a conscience he didn't know he had, while his twelve-year-old brother Tim (Joshua Miller) begins drifting into drugs and violence.
Tim Hunter's film is frightening and engrossing, not because of its lurid subject matter, but because of its hard-nosed, realistic tone. These are real teenagers—yes, even Keanu Reeves—living in a world where drugs are routine, laws and relationships don't matter much, and troubled adults only ignore or exploit them. When their friend Jamie (Danyi Deats) is killed, the event barely registers beyond morbid curiosity; disconnected from each other and from any sense of a future, their immediate reactions are casual and selfish. The edgy, drug-hyper Layne (a classic Crispin Glover performance) is motivated by twisted ideas of loyalty and freedom, while the hulking, quiet John is fatalistically uninterested in his own situation. Clarissa focuses on momentary attractions to various men as she seeks to fill an undefined emotional void, while Matt's rusty moral compass nudges him in the right direction, slowly and uncertainly.
There are no adult heroes here, though Feck is able to reach a few of the kids, providing an older, wiser perspective despite his addled dependence on an inflatable blow-up doll he has named Ellie, in honor of a beloved girlfriend he shot and killed twenty years earlier. Matt's mother is of absolutely no help, though her irresponsible parenting seems to help steer Matt in the right direction for the sake of his younger siblings. Few other adults are even in evidence beyond cops and a laconic convenience store clerk—the dead girl seems to have no parents or guardians interested in her whereabouts, and Clarissa's mother only verifies her presence or absence, asking no questions about her late-night comings and goings. It's like Rebel Without a Cause without the comfort of the parents' arrival; these kids are morally clueless, abandoned by the very people they look to for examples and guidance.
Director Hunter takes an intentionally cold, naturalistic approach to Neal Jimenez's intelligent, credible script. Guns and joints are not emphasized with any sort of cinematic flourish, but treated as routine, mundane elements of life; skies are almost always gray and cloudy, water is muddy and landscapes are sterile and barren. Jurgen Knieper's score is perfectly appropriate, evoking an old-fashioned Hollywood orchestral score, rendered by tinny, frequency-modulated synthesizers. This is a world in physical and moral decay, and Hunter's unblinking direction forces our attention to its tragic events.
This is not to say that River's Edge is depressing, but it certainly doesn't glamorize the dead-end lives of its characters, and it's not a thriller, a murder mystery, nor a teen drama in the conventional sense. There are a few laughs here, but most are of the uncomfortable variety—we're encouraged to sympathize with these kids, and the film deprives us of any comforting, distancing sense of righteous indignation. River's Edge is a dark, thought-provoking indictment of our culture, ultimately optimistic but as relevant today as it was in 1986. Recommended.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: MGM presents River's Edge in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with an anamorphic transfer. The source print is clean with just a few white flecks here and there, shadow detail is generally good and the film's muted colors are well-represented. Unfortunately, the new transfer's DVD bitrate doesn't seem to have been tuned tightly enough—scenes with greater visual complexity or heavier grain tend to suffer smearing, shimmering and blocking. There's also a weird compression glitch at the 00:38:30 point, as though motion prediction data got scrambled in the production process. Most of the film looks reasonably solid, aside from a general softness common to films of the 1980's, but the quality-assurance shortcomings bring this grade down significantly.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: River's Edge is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic audio, ProLogic-decoded to the center speaker, preserving the 1986 film's original soundtrack. The soundtrack's punk and heavy metal selections make the track's complete lack of low-end "oomph" notable by its absence, and dialogue is occasionally obscured, sometimes by volume imbalance, at other times by actors' lack of enunciation. MGM provides a competent digital presentation of the film's limited, low-budget mono soundtrack, but a little re-engineering and cleanup would have been entirely appropriate here.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: There's not much to see here, aside from 16 picture-menu chapter stops, French and Spanish subtitles, and the film's R-rated "red band" trailer, presented in a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer that exhibits quite a bit of noise and grain. There are three "cinema facts" production notes on the back of the DVD case, nothing more; a disappointing showing for this entry in MGM's "Avant-Garde Cinema" series.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsRiver's Edge is a quietly intense drama about aimless kids trying to find a moral compass with little adult guidance, buoyed by a strong script and solid character performances. MGM's DVD features a middling transfer and no real supplements, but the film holds up well and is certainly worth a rental.
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