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  July 29th, 2012       Posted by Frederik       Display Comments

This Sunday’s spotlight is “The River Wild”, Curtis Hanson’s 1994 adventure thriller featuring Meryl’s first and so far only action role. New DVD screencaptures have been added to the image library, alongside new promotional pictures and production stills. The video archive has been updated with three trailers, including the teaser and the theatrical trailer. There are also three new clips from the film. Production notes and my review after the cut. As always, please share your thoughts on “The River Wild” in the comments.

Production Notes

A non-fiction article for “Fly, Rod & Reel” Magazine by fly-fishing aficionado Deni O’Neill served as the inspiration for “The River Wild”. The piece was based on a fishing trip O’Neill took down Montana’s Smith River, notable not only because “it is beautiful and remote”, but also because once you get on that river, you can’t get off”, says O’Neill. “You have to travel the length of it.” For producer David Foster, the screenplay for “The River Wild” was a chance to fulfill a long-time cherished ambition. In 1975, while developing a Western titled “Running the Wild Big Red”, a fictional account of the first trip down the Colorado River rapids, Foster acquired his enduring fascination for white-water river rafting. Although the project was set aside the Westerns fell out of favor, Foster kept the dream alive. “For 17 years, I’d wanted to do a movie set on the rapids”, says Foster. “When I read the first draft of ‘The River Wild’, I knew I had a project that could work. From the moment I read the original script, I had two people in mind for the movie – I wanted Meryl Streep to star in it, and I wanted Curtis Hanson to direct,” says Foster.

“In my years of producing, this was the first time I got my number one choices right off the bat.” Universal and Turman-Foster brought Curtis Hanson to the project early on in the development process. Because of Hanson’s proven talent to direct such thrillers as “The Bedroom Window” and “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”, he seemed a natural choice for “The River Wild”. Streep and company got to know the river before the film’s official start date. Prior to principal photography, they enjoyed two weeks of what was affectionally dubbed “research and development”. The cast and director met in Grant’s Pass, Oregon for rehearsals on land and water. Not only did they interact as artists, they learned the dynamic of working together while maneuvering rafts down a river, in both placid and rough areas. These trip resulted in a deeper understanding and, sometimes, a redefinition of the characters. John Wasson, a rafter for over 25 years, consulted the shooting. “Meryl wound up doing 90 percent of the rapids by herself. For the dangerous waterfalls, we used a stunt double for reasons of safety – but Meryl would take the raft right up to the edge, and she took over again the moment the raft came through. She was an amazing trouper”.

There’s this one scene where I’m rowing at the foot of a pretty big waterfall in profile. I call it the Iwo Jima shot. And we did it over and over again because they were in love with this shot. So we did it all morning, and then in the afternoon, for dessert, we came back to do it again. But on the third time, I came down through the hole in the rapids, and the raft was thrown back. All of a sudden I was pulled back like there was a hook on my throat, and – free as a bird – I just went sailing out of the raft and under the bottom of it. And I don’t remember it at all. All I remember is coming out of the water about 500 yards down the river. But Curtis remembers it! Oh, he got it on film, definitely. And he had the nerve to ask me to do it again. (Meryl Streep, US Weekly, October 1994)

Producer Lawrence Turman commends Streep’s technical ability, noting that authenticity is key of the success of the movie, whiche he calls “one of the most exciting and daunting projects I’ve ever encountered.” “It’s one thing to say that Meryl Streep goes down the river, but in this script, she takes on some of the toughest rapids in the history of rapids,” says Turman.

Frederik’s Review

Curtis Hanson has always been an expert for psychological thrillers, paired with strong female characters, such as his 1987 film “The Bedroom Window” and the 1991 thriller “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”, in which he gave Rebecca De Mornay the role of a lifetime. “The River Wild” is less gritty and more family orientated, which serves the film well, despite some moments. The film boasts some amazing nature landscapes and wonderfully shot scenes, especially the rafting segments. The story is at times a bit far-fetched, but serves the cause of a solid action film. Which it is only on the surface. A great deal of the film centers on the family’s problems and their crumbling marriage. Throughout the film, the family learns to stick together and fight the evil, in this case the robberers. When the father is on the run and tries to save his family’s lives, with the help of the family dog, “The River Wild” reminds you that you’re watching a thriller that stays family-friendly throughout. But that doesn’t make the film any worse. It keeps its pace and serves believable characters that you’re rooting for. It’s also a nice change that the action hero is the mother. After “Death Becomes Her”, this has been another departure for Meryl Streep and she received her share of “Rambo” jokes by critics when the film was announced, but just like any other role she has played, Meryl immerses into her character, she takes the rapids like she hasn’t done anything before and becomes a lioness to save her family. The rest of the cast is equally good – but the star of the film is the cinematography. This is an enjoyable family thriller, suitable for everyone. Recommended.

  • Sarah

    When I bought it, I thought I was going to hate it, but it was actually an awesome movie! Meryl really proved to us that she can do anything, acting and physical wise. The movie as a whole was nice too. It had a suspenseful plot and was just awesome to watch because Meryl was in it as well. I would definitely recommend it to her fans that haven’t see it yet. It’s different, but definitely well acted, and a great film overall.

  • Sonja


    The raiting for “Hope Springs” is PG-13. At least that’s what they’ve said in the trailer.

    Now to “The River Wild”.
    It’s a very… should I dare to say “entertaining” (?) thriller.
    The rafting scenes are strongely impressing and the fact Meryl did about 90% of the stunts herself is even more astonishing.

    She really became this strong willed woman who tried everything to get her family out of the danger. She recieved a Golden Globe and SAG nod and I’m not very surprised.
    Kevin Bacon was so creepy…. When he watched her bathing in the hot spring…. That scene really gave me goosebumps all over.
    All in all it’s a very thrilling movie, especially at the end.

  • Rose

    Meryl has hit the nail on the head yet again. She is perfect in every role she plays. I love this movie, even though the Bridges Of Madison County is my all time favorite. Does anyone know the rating of Hope Springs? I want to see it so badly. I’ll see it no matter what the rating, but I just want to know what I’m in for.

    Another great movie, Meryl!

  • pamh

    I think I have written a number of comments for the different movies over the last couple of months and even perhaps saying in all my write-ups saying this is one of my favorite Streep movies. Well I am about to say it again with as much passion as I did the rest. I love this movie. I love the fact that Meryl, this theatre trained actress, this actress of prolific ability and discussion at the Yale School of Drama and discussed as one of the best ever, did most of the physical work in this film and heroics. This is a psychological thriller with the two strangers needing help and feeling something wasn’t just right through the rapids and then through the last seen with the gun. And while the NRA might want to take credit for her gun toting abilities, which in real life I know meryl is against, she tries one more time to give these hoodlums a chance by moving the shells into a different chamber of the gun. Alas she has to make that choice at the end. What I also am proud of is that up until Sigourney Weaver’s role in Alien, and Jodie Foster’s role in Silence of the Lambs, most films where woman are in danger fall victim to the stereotype of the man saving them. Meryl is the action hero in this film and her ferocity is to protect her son and family is the single factor that drives her courage to stay alive. I found all the actors to be believable and wonderful. David Straithern was totally believable as the spouse trying to live up to his own self imposed expectations he thinks his wife has of him. The actor who is a great match for Meryl is Kevin Bacon. He was great. And very scary. Lastly the cinematography against those scenic backdrops was also a major character in the film. What can I say? This is one of my favorite Meryl films . I hope you will all forgive me if I say it again and again in future fan write-ups.

  • Harry

    Meryl has done it again. She can be in any role and she will nail it. This is a good thriller to enjoy!