River's Edge

(Kino Lorber) 1996, Rated R

Jan 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm

River’s Edge debuted alongside Blue Velvet at the 1986 Telluride Film Festival. Both films featured a visceral performance from a newly sober Dennis Hopper, vivid work from cinematographer Frederick Elmes and a rare darkly comic narrative.

Nearly 30 years later, Blue Velvet is rightly hailed as David Lynch’s masterpiece, an achievement noted film historian David Thomson describes as “the last moment of transcendence I had felt at the movies.” River’s Edge, however, has garnered a solid cult following but nowhere near the acclaim — though it’s every bit as penetrating.

Kino Lorber’s long-awaited new Blu-ray version of River’s Edge includes an audio commentary track from director Tim Hunter in which he immediately admits the movie is the apex of his four-decade career. He also says that it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without the presence of Crispin Glover.

If the massive success of Back to the Future introduced Glover to mainstream audiences — he played Marty McFly’s father George — it was his performance as a tweaked-out teenager in River’s Edge that forever cemented his status as an inspired, one-of-a-kind artist.

River’s Edge is just as distinctive — a gritty, impressively naturalistic portrait of 1980s teenage life that’s the polar opposite of that era’s more popular fare. Screenwriter Neal Jimenez’s script, based on the true-life murder of a young California girl, remains as fresh as the day it surfaced, in turn yielding a few lines for the cinematic ages (“food eater!”). For the uninitiated, River’s Edge — which Hunter reveals was shot over 30 days on a budget of $1.7 million — relays how the death of a friend impacts a small band of teenagers led by Glover’s Layne, who, in an odd sense of loyalty, will do anything to protect the perpetrator. Beyond Hopper, who plays a demented mentor of sorts to the kids, the cast includes a young Keanu Reeves, who gives the most believable performance of his career — yet another sign of this singular movie’s power to compel.

Grade: A