Loosely based on actual events, River’s Edge is about a group of teenagers who are aware of a murder committed by one of their friends, but apathy and confusion keep them from doing anything about it. With top notch acting by Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper, the average acting by the remaining cast is forgivable.
The film begins with a young boy, Tim (Joshua John Miller), dropping his younger sister’s doll off a bridge. Tim hears someone yelling and looks up to see Samson (Daniel Roebuck) on the bank of the river with the dead naked body of his girlfriend behind him. Samson later shows the body to his friends, all of which are horrified, not only because of the murder, but because the victim, Jamie (Danyi Deats), was a friend of theirs. Despite this, no one goes to the police. This may seem unrealistic, but it’s what happened in the real story. A similar situation happens in Alpha Dog (2006), which is also based on actual events. Through the apathy and confusion, Layne (Crispin Glover) works to keep Samson safe, although no one, including Samson, seems to care. Along the way, Feck (Dennis Hopper), a drug dealing shut-in who has one leg and chats with his companion, Elly (who happens to be an inflatable doll), comes into the picture and adds another layer of mystery and madness. The teens apathy and confusion turn into chaos and anger as they lose control of the situation, and themselves.
The murder of Jamie horrifies everyone, except Samson, but they don’t sob or scream, they simply run away and attempt to go on with their lives. When Layne asks Samson why he did it, Samson replies, “She was talking shit.” It’s easy to identify with the teenagers, who don’t know how they feel, or should feel, about the death of their friend. In much the same way, the audience doesn’t know how to feel, because we don’t know Jamie. We’re saddened by the death and realize that Samson should be held accountable for his actions, but we don’t feel strongly for Jamie as a person.
There are several similarities between River’s Edge and Twin Peaks (1990), especially in the overall feel of the film. I wonder if Mark Frost and David Lynch were thinking of River’s Edge when creating Twin Peaks. After all, Tim Hunter did go on to direct three episodes of Twin Peaks.
Crispin Glover’s performance as the hyperactive, frantic Layne is an Oscar worthy performance. Always in a rush, and worried about protecting Samson, Layne is an intense character who acts as though he’s on speed. If you’ve seen Glover in other performances you know he can deliver a line like no one else, it’s always a treat to see him onscreen. The other great performance is by Dennis Hopper, his portrayal of Feck reminded me of a toned down, and more humorous, version of Frank Booth, Hopper’s character in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).
River’s Edge is a great film and shows how easy it is to become apathetic when we think something is none of our business.
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Neal Jimenez
Cast: Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck, Dennis Hopper
Runtime: 99 minutes