The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, September 23-29

rivers edge

River’s Edge (1987)
Directed by Tim Hunter
It’s no mystery why David Lynch tapped Hunter to helm a few episodes of Twin Peaks. This breakthrough film, after a pair of family-friendlies, resembles the later television show—it opens with the naked corpse of a young woman, who’ll later be pulled out of a river, and proceeds to reveal the lives of quirky characters inhabiting a Pacific Northwestern town, including Dennis Hopper, holed up in a house with a sex doll, a pistol and some kickass weed. But Hunter, working off Neal Jimenez’s screenplay, doesn’t explore anything quite as sordid as that opening shot; instead, it pursues an adolescent ethical dilemma—whether to help a friend who committed a crime or turn him in—like a typical high school comedy under extreme duress. (Jürgen Knieper’s eerily dramatic, Hermann-meets-Badalamenti score for the film often seems like the most urgent thing about it.)

The criminal is John (Daniel Roebuck), who strangles his girlfriend and then, with troubling bluntness, tells everyone about it. Crispin Glover plays his manic sidekick, obsessed with protecting him from the police, while Keanu Reeves becomes the voice of moral authority, as well as the loudest voice for wanting to get out of their damp, gray town—and away from the petty crime, meanness, madness, social dysfunction and juvenile delinquency that defines it. River’s Edge interrogates a suburban generation that’s either numb and stoned or apathetic and nasty, born of the 60s’ failed idealism, which also begat Reagan; it’s very much about 80s American youth culture: long hair, thrash metal and disaffection. (As John puts it, “You do shit, and then it’s done—and then you die!”) But it’s also about a boy who has to betray his hometown to do right by the world. And by himself. Henry Stewart (September 23, 9:15pm; September 27, 6:45pm, at Anthology Film Archives’s “This is Celluloid: 35mm Encore“)

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