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movie: A River Runs Through It (1992)

rivermovieI was pleased when Husband found this movie for me the other night. I enjoyed the book by Maclean so much, and I had heard good things about the movie. Robert Redford’s involvement speaks well, too.

First of all, this film is very visually pleasing; the scenery is lovely (IMDB says it was shot in Montana and Wyoming – not onsite in Missoula, but convincingly nearby), the fishing scenes are appropriately peaceful, and the actors are attractive. Thank you, Hollywood, for a typical, unrealistic portrayal! Although Paul Maclean in particular was supposed to be a very good-looking young man; and whatever your feelings about Brad Pitt, I don’t think you can argue that his role as Paul is less than gorgeous. (See below.) Also pleasing are the glimpses of 1920’s flapperdom, particularly in the character of Jessie Burns (later Maclean’s wife), who is charmingly represented.

young Brad Pitt

young Brad Pitt

The film opens and closes with Norman Maclean as an old man, fly-fishing, accompanied by a voiceover (by Robert Redford) quoting from the book. This is appropriate, and effective. Otherwise, the film’s connection to the book comes and goes. The Maclean family onscreen is quite faithful to the Maclean family of the novella (although I found the Reverend a little friendlier in the book than in the movie), but the action diverges often. I missed the couple that happen upon Paul’s masterful fishing in the book, but at least the scene is represented in the film. I was perhaps most thrown by the scene in which the Maclean brothers take a daring whitewater trip in a “borrowed” boat; I could feel how disconnected this section was from Maclean’s own writing, and indeed, it felt out of character with the brothers as I knew them from the page. Coming early in the movie as it did, it was even more disjointed for me. When the fishing trips (two of them) with Jessie’s brother take place in the book, Norman and Jessie are already married; in the movie, they’ve just begun dating, and there’s only one scene. It is, however, well represented with both humor and outrage.

As of course is standard in book-to-movie adaptations, we get less in the film than we did on the page. Naturally I missed the parts we lost, because I loved the book so. This is to be expected. Part of what I missed was the immersion (no pun intended) in the world of fly-fishing that Maclean brings so fully to life, in such an interesting manner even to those of us who don’t care much for fishing. The depth of all the characters also naturally loses some development in a 2-hour movie. All things considered, this was an enjoyable movie – for its natural landscapes, peaceful yet tortured tone, and familiarity with the Maclean family of whom I cannot get enough. It doesn’t do the book justice, but no movie could, so I won’t hold much of a grudge for that.


Rating: 6 trout.

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