Another 1990s domestic parable chastising workaholic dads, The River Wild also functions as a gorgeous travelogue and a Meryl Streep action film. Director Curtis Hanson sure packs a lot into one river trip.
Streep plays Gail Hartman, a mother and wife who has become exasperated with her absentee husband, Tom (David Strathairn). So she plans a bonding trip to her native Montana, where she used to be a river guide, and loads her husband, son and dog on a raft (Tom brings his briefcase, of course). As if the domestic tension wasn’t enough, they soon run into a group of rafters (including Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly) who are so nice they must be hiding something.
The River Wild is awfully obvious in the way it goes about its thematic business – Tom, the ineffectual family man, is metaphorically castrated by the adventure while Gail, the protective mother, rises to the occasion – but it also has amusing bits and pieces. Bacon is an insidious foil (“I am a nice guy. Just a different kind of nice guy”), while Streep brings as much introspection as one could expect to her role. “I’m on everybody’s side,” she sighs at one point. “I’m a mother.”