I picked up the DVD for The River King, almost by accident. I didn’t know anything about it, but based on the back cover discovered it was a mystery and starred Jennifer Ehle. It’s a decent movie with a lot of plot twists…right up to the end when, even though we discover the outcome, you’re still waiting for another twist.
The River King is about a small town New England police officer, Abel Grey, played by Edward Burns, investigating the death of an out-of-town boy attending an elitist prep school. Betsy Chase, played by Jennifer Ehle, the school’s English lit and photography teacher, helps Abel in his quest to find out if the boy’s death was accidental, suicide, or homicide. The investigation, apparently Abel’s first case of this nature, brings back memories of his brother’s suicide many years earlier. It also brings out the worst in the police department and Abel’s partner who are taking money from the school to drop the case.
The movie has a lot of good points: some wonderful scenery and cinematography (filmed in snow-covered Nova Scotia), good acting, lots of plot twists, interesting music, and a storyline that flashes between the present investigation and the past to reveal answers and create new intrigue. There’s also a subtle parallel lover’s triangle. One between the dead boy, a classmate, and a school girl. The other between Abel, Betsy, and her finance/co-teacher. This isn’t a fast-paced, action-filled, special effects movie; it’s more realistic…a thinking person’s journey to solve a tragedy. And for these reasons, I recommend The River King.
But, it has some problems. And these might explain why the movie went straight to DVD without a theatrical release (because as far as I can tell, there’s been no official explanation).
- Several issues and questions are left unanswered. For example, the smudges that look like a person in the pictures of the dead boy’s room and his sport teams, are never explained…were they film development mistakes by Betsy? Were they just over-eager imaginings by Betsy and Abel? And why the name The River King? The dead boy is found in the frozen river, but that doesn’t explain the name.
- Betsy hardly appears in the movie. She’s sort of hung in limbo, not really a main character but more than a supporting grunt. Jennifer Ehle does the best she can with what little she’s been left, but she often seems reduced to facial expressions. And one really feels that a lot of her character hit the cutting room floor. This is a problem because Ed Burns does a good job, but he isn’t really strong enough by himself. He lacks the layers of a great actor.
- The movie is based on a book of the same name by Alice Hoffman and I get the feeling the director and film editor think we’ll read the book to get the answers. So they caused all the problems listed above. For example, I’m told Betsy’s part is much bigger and more critical in the book…maybe that’s why Ehle took the role…but it was chopped out in the movie.
- One complaint about Ehle’s performance. Her character is a photographer, but Ehle doesn’t seem to know how hold a camera. She has her right hand on the side of the camera with her finger on the shutter–good. But her left hand is under the camera, not on the lens. How does she plan on focusing for her shots? I don’t know enough about the film camera she’s using, but it looks too old to have auto focus and the lens doesn’t ever seem to move. (OK, my brother is a photographer, so this will probably bother very few people–but it bugged me.)
But the good overshadows the bad and it’s an interesting movie to watch. Pick it up some time; it’s worth watching.
Favorite line: "You look back and you see these things you thought were clues, only you realize they weren’t."
Another good line: When her finance says he knew she was
‘the one’ because it felt right and she makes him "feel happier," Betsy replies: "Ice cream makes me feel happier."