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River’s Edge (Blu-ray Review)

12 Jan, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Street 1/13/15
Kino Lorber
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Ione Skye, Dennis Hopper.

Even by the seen-it-all standards of the past quarter-century, this Generation X creep-out that should have done more for director Tim Hunter’s career than it did remains unsettling — which may be another way of saying that if a downbeat movie fails to lose its edge even after an extended period, it probably means that real-life society has headed southwards to such a degree that even the mainstream has caught up to it.

Based on a real-life incident in rural California, the picture deals with a high school girl strangled to death by a doughy mound of flesh who leaves her decaying body down by the river — an incident known to her almost universally apathetic friends who don’t bother to tell the authorities. The exception to this is the story’s nominal hero (Keanu Reeves), whose reward for spilling the beans is to become a suspect. Reeves’ economically lower-class home life isn’t the greatest, either: mom has loudmouth boyfriend (chronically p.o.’d with a cause), and little brother’s idea of a goal is to ride his bike over to the community’s premier stoner-with-a-rubber-sex-doll (Dennis Hopper) and steal his firearms.

Given the story’s eeriness (corpse shots abound) and the participation of both Hopper and cinematographer Frederick Elmes (more recently of HBO’s Olive Kitteridge), this is a companion piece of sorts to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, which had come out the previous fall. This was back when Hopper’s screen renewal was really on a roll and when the same era’s Hoosiers got him an Oscar nomination for playing an alcoholic — all of this a long way from making the Henry Hathaway Westerns from earlier in his career. Elmes’ work looks a little washed-out in this Blu-ray rendering, but if memory serves, the movie looked intentionally soft when it played in theaters. Were we still in the revival house era, memory wouldn’t have to serve because Edge likely would have been a repertory staple.

Crispin Glover’s performance as the killer’s protector is over-the-top even for him — in keeping with the material but also perhaps the litmus test for how much a fan of the movie you’ll be. Otherwise, Reeves and daughter-of-Donovan Ione Skye Leitch have one long pleasing interlude that effectively tempers the rest — “the rest” being some effectively morbid material that probably led to (not surprisingly) Hunter directing some “Twin Peaks” episodes. How Hunter (on a voiceover bonus commentary) got from Tex and Sylvester to this must be an interesting backstory — but then screenwriter Neal Jimenez later penned Bette Midler’s labor-of-love For the Boys, so there.

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