Review: River’s Edge (1986)

“It’s people like you that are sending this country down the tubes. No sense of pride. No sense of loyalty. No sense of NOTHING, man.”

River’s Edge is a dark coming of age story that centers around the murder of local high school girl Jamie and the struggles of her friends to come to terms with her death at the hands of her boyfriend John. Fans of Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover will be familiar with this cult classic where both actors give memorable performances as nice guy Matt and the neurotic Layne, respectively. I could easily recommend it to anyone looking for an eighties teen movie to indulge in, but wanting something darker than The Breakfast Club or any other John Hughes classic.

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The opening five minutes of this movie may be shocking to some given that director Tim Hunter doesn’t spare any details regarding the discovery of Jamie’s body by Matt’s younger brother Tim. The set up for the revelation of her murder is simple, but meaningful when you consider the theme of the movie. We first see Tim (pictured above) throwing his sister’s doll into the river and after this shot, the camera pans over to where John is sitting on the riverbank next to his dead girlfriend. The first scene becomes disturbing as you see it mirrored a few seconds later. With these first few glimpses into the lives of these California kids, you can already get a sense of their dysfunctional childhoods and confused senses of morality. As Jamie’s recently deceased corpse is revealed to her friends, we see how each reacts differently as they try to cope with what they have just seen. Matt is left speechless, while ever loyal Layne begins to conjure up ways to conceal the deed so that his buddy John would be off the hook. The group’s friendship is put to the test as they contemplate what should be done.

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The reason behind her murder is equally as disturbing as the shots of Jamie’s dead body. “She was talking shit,” is what John tells his buddies. Had it been a crime of passion, it would have been easier to swallow, but here, the motive and subsequent reactions seem so void of anything remotely meaningful. Later in the movie, Matt and Clarissa (Ione Skye) discuss their apathetic responses to Jamie’s murder. They wonder, just like viewers of the film, why their reactions haven’t been more emotional after the brutal killing of their friend. For me, the apathy presented by the characters in this movie is chilling. A common complaint of the older generations, the kids just don’t care anymore, is what I was thinking throughout the film.

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“It’s not something that I just shoot off without reason,” Feck (Dennis Hopper) lets John know, as the teen recklessly fires off his revolver. The main adult character in the movie takes matters into his own hands and makes a moral judgement call that has lasting impacts. I think director Tim Hunter did a remarkable job on this film, as he presents a scenario that could have easily played out in 1980’s California. The characters can be deeply analyzed as if they were not fictional because they present a very real image of the nature of disillusioned youth, a problem which is still relevant in today’s world.

Bottom Line

Don’t watch Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge if you aren’t prepared to do some reflecting on your own morality. This dark 80’s youth movie is not for the faint of heart, but if you do make it through the film, you won’t regret it. As a bonus, you’ll get to see some unforgettable performances by a great cast and will be quoting this film for a while to come.

Directed by Tim Hunter
Cast includes Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper, Ione Skye, and Daniel Roebuck

Images copyright Hemdale Film Corporation and Island Pictures.

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