“You know, if you were on a desert island with that guy and there was nothing but rocks, pretty soon he would have all the rocks moved to his side of the beach.”
Usually when I watch a movie, old or new, I know at least something about it. Maybe it’s a subject matter I’m into, maybe I like one or two of the actors, or they’re legends I know I should watch more of. Maybe it’s the director or writer’s whose names I recognise. Maybe it’s the title that seems familiar, even if that’s as far as my knowledge goes. It’s very rare that I go in 100% blind, not knowing a single thing about movie’s story, or recognising a single name of anyone involved in front of or behind the camera. I don’t even know how I came to have a copy of The River’s Edge. But I did, and I watched it.
Ben (Anthony Quinn) is a struggling rancher who’s trying to make ends meet. The only thing less successful than his attempt at farming is his marriage to Debra (Margaret Fowler). One day, a mysterious and cagey stranger (Ray Millard as Nardo) arrives in town. Behind Ben’s back, he meets with Debra and it turns out they have a past. A criminal past. Neither fully trusts the other, but at the same time, neither can deny their attraction to the other.
Nardo is on the run with some sort of loot form his most recent crime and forces Ben to smuggle him across the border into Mexico. But Ben is no put upon weakling. He has a few things to gain out of this as well. Once on the road, it’s a constant battle of the alpha males as Ben and Nardo find ways to one up each other physically and psychologically. All while Debra plays a pretty thankless role of the female cypher, will no real redeeming qualities.
Watching The River’s Edge, it was pretty obvious why it’s not a considered a classic and why I’d never heard of it before. It’s not much of a movie. Very little happens and any sort of character growth or story arc attempted is so obvious and cliched, that it’s never earned or believable. Sure, the bizarre love triangle technically has consequences for the three main characters. And I guess they develop enough over the course of the story that there’s come change. The only thing is, it never established any of them enough in the first place for to give a crap about any of this growth or the consequences of their actions.
Ben and Nardo are barely distinguishable from each other in their macho posturing, and Debra really is the worst kind of female character. Depending on where she is in the story, she only ever serves one of two functions. Either seducing these men so she can take advantage of them, or being rescued by one of these men, realising she should have just done what she was told all along. The River’s Edge is proof that some movies are forgotten for a reason.