River’s Edge (1987)

22 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s one thing to make a teen drama. It’s quite another to make a teen drama inspired by a true story. The fact that the film “River’s Edge” is inspired by a true story makes the film even more disturbing. The film features teenagers who drink, do dope, and have no real purpose in life. Just the way these kids are depicted is unnerving enough, but the main storyline is about one of those teenagers killing another of their own without any remorse. Why? She was talking too much. And it’s a true story. A high school student, in real life, did strangle his girlfriend and showed the body to his friends. What’s worse? The friends never said anything about it to the authorities for quite a while until one of them finally confessed.

“River’s Edge” is not a forgettable film. It’s a disturbing, unnerving, creepy portrait of stoned teenagers who think they mean well but really they’re just confused. The way they act is unsettling for any parent. There is one kid who more heartfelt than the others, but he still smokes dope—his mother also thinks he’s stealing her dope. The kid scolds his younger brother, who is a 12-year-old, sadistic little creep who just dumped away his little sister’s beloved doll. “You’re stupid enough to pull a stunt like that, but then to go and brag about it…”

Not much later, the kid and his friends are taken to the side of a river to see the naked dead body of a girlfriend of one of the teenagers. The film is not really about the girl’s killer (Daniel Roebuck), who couldn’t care less about what could happen to him if anyone else finds out. The film focuses its attention on the group’s self-appointed leader Layne (Crispin Glover), who has obviously taken one shot of speed too many. Layne wants to protect his friend and orders the others not to say anything. But the sensitive kid, Matt (Keanu Reeves), doesn’t want to wait much longer. Also, there’s a girl named Clarissa (Ione Skye) who asks, “She was our friend. Shouldn’t we feel sorry for her? Are we supposed to just ignore it?”

What’s even more haunting about these kids is that the young actors portray them all convincingly. Is this what America’s youth will be reduced to? It is too late for the kids in this movie—they are so far into drugs and alcohol that they can only fear their own futures and their pasts. In particular, Crispin Glover’s performance is quite memorable—the way he uses body language and that weird voice of his to try and get his point across is electric. And then there’s Joshua Miller as the sadistic kid brother Tim. This kid is definitely not likable and a beating would be a celebration for his deeds…but he is all too real, and you know he’ll be as messed up as the older kids.

Another great performance is given by Dennis Hopper as Feck, a drug dealer who supplies the kids with dope and befriends the young killer because they both have something in common. They both killed their girlfriends. Feck shot his in the head out of passion. But his way of living and hiding out soon comes to question in his own mind when the kid comes clean about why he strangled his girlfriend to death.

“River’s Edge” was directed by Tim Hunter, who also directed “Tex,” which also featured troubled teenagers. In this movie, Hunter gives the teenaged characters not much room to grow (it’s unclear if they can grow) and surrounds them with a crisis even bigger than what they’ve already been exposed to. It’s a despairing, horrifying, yet effective portrait of adolescents who just don’t care much for what’s happening around them.

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