River’s Edge (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
John (Daniel Roebuck), an unambitious high school student, had recently killed his girlfriend for no reason. He didn’t feel bad about it. In fact, he went to school the next day to brag about the murder to his friends. Matt (Keanu Reeves) felt sick to his stomach after seeing the corpse and considered calling the police. Layne (Crispin Glover), on the other hand, was determined to find John a hiding place as he tried to figure out how to get the police off his trail. Written by Neal Jimenez and directed by Tim Hunter, “River’s Edge” was a careful examination sans evaluation of youth’s apathy. It was like an aggressive disease and I couldn’t help but watch the teenagers, as well as some adults, make one terrible and heartbreaking decision after another. Take Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) as they attempted to call the cops to let them know about their friend’s naked corpse by the riverside. Their good intentions drove them to walk to a pay phone, but neither wanted the responsibility of talking to the police. One of them claimed she didn’t know the number while the other claimed she didn’t know what to say to the authorities. Neither ended up making the call. How difficult was it to give an anonymous tip? All they had to do was dial 9-1-1, say what they saw, provide a location, and hang up. All could be accomplished in under ten seconds. There were several subplots that surrounded the murder and most functioned as distractions. Oddly enough, they worked because none of the friends wanted to face the grim reality of a life that existed the day before. They would rather hang out at the arcade, get high, and entertain gossip that went around school. But there was one subplot that generated a lot of tension. Tim (Joshua John Miller), Matt’s twelve-year-old brother, was extremely angry for being hit by his brother. He went on a mission to find Feck (Dennis Hopper), a man with a bad leg whose sole companionship was a blow-up doll, because he had a gun. Tim wanted to shoot Matt as retribution. The brothers came from a dysfunctional home. Their mother was prone to histrionics; she wanted to control her children but wasn’t willing to put the energy to parent effectively. Meanwhile, their stepfather had the bravado to suggest to his wife that beatings would set the children straight. Everyone was a mess but it made no judgment through repercussions. It was up to us to try to make sense of the decisions. As the picture unfolded, I realized the sadness of everyone’s situation even though I didn’t agree with their actions. Perhaps they just didn’t know any better. The writing and direction’s partnership was crucial. If one was weaker than the other, the characters and the circumstances that plagued them would have been less thought-provoking. Or worse, the material could have been a hammy Lifetime movie. The fact is, the places and people featured here do exist. It is a reminder that one doesn’t need to live in an urban area to observe insidious moral decay.