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Not to be confused with Wild River.
The River Wild

theatrical poster
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Produced by David Foster
Lawrence Turman
Written by Denis O'Neill
Starring Meryl Streep
Kevin Bacon
David Strathairn
John C. Reilly
Joseph Mazzello
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Maurice Jarre (main title theme rejected)
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Editing by David Brenner
Joe Hutshing
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 30 September 1994 (USA)
24 February 1995 (UK)
Running time 108 min.
Language English,American Sign Language
Budget $45,000,000

The River Wild is a 1994 American thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, and Joseph Mazzello. The story involves a family on a whitewater rafting trip who encounter two violent criminals in the wilderness.



A Boston couple, Gail (Meryl Streep) and Tom (David Strathairn) are having marital problems. Gail, a rafting expert, decides to take their child Roarke (Joseph Mazzello) on a holiday rafting down the Salmon River in Idaho, along with their pet dog. At the last minute Tom joins them. As they are setting off they meet a couple of other rafters, Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly), who appear to be friendly.

After a day's rafting the family make camp for the night, but Tom continues to work on his laptop computer rather than enter fully into the experience. The family are joined by Wade and Terry who help to celebrate Roarke's birthday. Gail flirts with Wade. However, after a while Wade begins acting suspiciously and Gail decides it would be best to part ways. During the morning's rafting Wade reveals to Roarke that they have a gun with them. As they raft down the river the parents discuss an exit strategy that will allow them to leave the two men behind, and at lunch they attempt to leave on their raft and get away before Wade and Terry realize what is going on.

Their attempt fails and Wade pulls the gun on them and assaults Tom. Gail then realizes that an armed robbery she had heard about was actually carried out by Wade and Terry, and their rafting trip is actually a way for them to get away. The family are forced to raft at gunpoint down the rest of the river before they all set up camp for the night. During the night Tom attempts to steal the gun off the sleeping Terry but is heard and has to run into the bushes and to the river. Wade gives chase and believes he has shot him when he hears a loud splash into the water.

It's revealed that Wade and Terry, in order to aid their escape, want to go on down the river to a set of rapids where in recent years one person was killed and another was left paralyzed. Consequently, rafting is no longer allowed. Wade and Terry force the rafters down through the rapids despite Gail's repeated attempts to flip the raft and so force Wade and Terry out of the river.

Meanwhile a park ranger (Benjamin Bratt), who knows Gail, is white water canoeing down the river. He bumps into the group; but Wade holds the gun to Gail's back and pretends that everything is OK. Later, he appears again but this time Wade shoots him and he falls dying into the river.

Tom reappears and manages to flip the raft. Gail and Roarke, who have been tied to the raft by Wade, remain in the raft and to get hold of the gun, which had fallen into the water. whilst Tom is fighting Terry. The struggle ends when Gail throws the bag of money into the water and shoots Wade whose dead body floats off down river. The film ends with the family and Terry (who has been arrested) being helicoptered out.



The Kootenay River valley used in the film

Many of the film's whitewater scenes were filmed on the Kootenai River in Montana. Additional scenes were filmed on the Rogue River, in Southern Oregon and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Meryl Streep did most of her own stunts in the film. Streep had a scare at the end of one day of filming when Hanson asked her to shoot one more scene, which she protested against because of exhaustion. Streep, however decided to attempt the scene and with a lack of strength from fatigue was swept off the raft into the river and was in danger of drowning, before she was rescued. On being rescued Streep said to Hanson "In the future, when I say I can't do something, I think we should believe me," to which Hanson agreed.


The film premiered on September 30, 1994 in the United States but release was delayed in the United Kingdom until February 24, 1995. The film grossed a total of $94,216,343 worldwide, earning $46,816,343 domestically in the United States and $47,400,000 abroad.


The River Wild generally received a mixed reaction by critics although the scenery and cinematography of the film was widely praised. Film critic James Berardinelli praised the production of the film in its cinematography and score and the pace of the rafting experience to the audience. He praised Curtis Hanson's directing in that like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Hanson, "could manipulate characters and situations within the comfortable confines of a formula plot", describing it as a "level of excitement designed to submerge implausibilities and minor gaffes, and a film which "braves the rapids while keeping the viewer afloat amidst its churning waters".[1] He also praised Streep's powerful performance as a female action hero but described the film overall as "a cut below a white-knuckler".[1]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times also highlighted the best elements of the film as the cinematography, which he described as "great looking" and the performances by Bacon and Streep, who he described as "putting a lot humor and intelligence into her character".[2] However, Ebert identified serious flaws in the strength of the plot, remarking that, "movies like this are so predictable in their overall stories that they win or lose with their details...The River Wild was constructed from so many ideas, characters and situations recycled from other movies that all the way down the river I kept thinking: Been there".[2] He emphasised the lack credibility in the storyline and sheer impossibility of some scenes, particularly involving David Strathairn as he outruns the pace of the river and his scenes with the cliff and his Swiss Army knife.[2]

Streep received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination for best actress for her portrayal of a former river guide turned wife and mother. Bacon received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Featured Film. Neither of them won the Golden Globe, with the awards going to Jessica Lange in Blue Sky and Martin Landau in Ed Wood respectively.


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