Under Review: ‘The River Why’


“I understand the way fish think,” is what Gus says as he describes his life story, a convoluted fable about life and its analogy to fishing.

Gus’s father, William Hurt, is an affected published author and his mother, Kathleen Quinlan, is the rough feminist fisherwoman whose use of natural bait trumps more sophisticated means.

Gus, played by Zach Gilford, is the son who knows he must leave his family to develop his own unique self. He escapes to his home of choice, a river, finding a conduit in the independent-minded Eddy, wonderfully played by Amber Heard.

Shot on the rivers of Oregon, “The River Why” had its theatrical world premiere to a sell-out at the famed Hollywood Theater in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 9. Profits from the evening went to River Network, a coordinator of river support groups including Willamette Riverkeeper, Portland’s No. 1 river watchdog agency.

At the premiere, I had the luck to sit three seats away from an assemblage of notables from Oregon, including Gov. John Kitzhaber, who was in from a headlining helicopter tour of forest fire damage up by Mt. Hood earlier that day. Next to him was a casually dressed William Hurt and a suit-jacketed actor from the film (more on him later).

Todd Ambs, president of River Network, proudly introduced the film with the statement, “What made this movie possible were the rivers of Oregon.” Others in the overflow audience, besides the extended cast and crew of the film, included the directors and coordinators of the great river activist agencies in Oregon and their supporters.

Filmed on three rivers, the Wilson, Nehalem and North Umpqua, the film captured a fisher’s paradise and a nature-lover’s haven. The down-to-earth independent-minded environmental nature of Oregonians meandered throughout.

The very best of the film, which is besot with story continuity and editing problems, took just three days to shoot. Knowing little about the film, I was initially struck at how the guy who played William Hurt (Gus’s father) as a young man, though neither big nor lumbering like Hurt, uncannily caught Hurt’s mannerisms and way-of-being. His delivery was natural and his screen presence was energizing.

It was after the audience applause when the producer and cast took the stage that I discovered who this interesting young fellow really was, this fellow who had been sitting next to Mr. Hurt and right in front of me during the show. It happened to be Alex Hurt, son of William.

Outside the theater I happened into Alex in an informal chance encounter. “Was this a Hurt project with Hurt production interest?” I asked suspiciously.

“No, not at all. Last summer, I auditioned, submitting tapes. One guy in charge didn’t think I was right for the part, but the other did and I got the role. It was never intended as nor did it become a family production deal.”

“Come on, tell me,” I wanted some reality message about the film, “you know the Oregon Rivers are cold. That character (Gus, Mr. Hurt’s son in the film) would have died of hypothermia – wading through the river following a fish and then at dusk going into the forest and sleeping overnight – he would have died!”

“Yeah, that part wasn’t in the book,” Alex answered honestly.

“Was Gilford wearing a wet or dry suit? Everyone in Oregon knows fishermen can’t spend time in our cold rivers without waders,” I burrowed in further.

“Zach wore a wet suit under his clothes, but he said he was still cold. Real cold!” Alex answered.

“So in this way we know this is a metaphorical story – more of a fable?” I was searching because of the reality incongruities.

“You got it,” Alex answered.

My companion, Pat, and I talked further with Alex about differences from the book, ways Alex might have re-worked the sequence and basic storyline as well as his role in an upcoming Portland play, Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land,” an Artists Repertory Theatre production.

Alex was a friendly, natural, wonderful guy we predict is going to get to choose his projects and advance in the industry as long as he maintains control over his own management. There is both a goodness and intelligent insightful spontaneity about Alex, a recent graduate of The Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, that is both refreshing and instructive. He is the reason, if not the beauty and invigoration of the Oregon rivers, to see this film.

Now Showing at Portland’s Famed Hollywood Theatre

Production Credits
Producer: Kristi Denton Cohen
Director: Matthew Leutwyler
Co-Writers : Thomas Cohen and John Jay Osborn
Director of Photography: Karsten “Crash” Gopinath
Executive Producers: Shari H. Quinney, David E. Quinney, III, Miranda Bailey, Charles Mastropietro and Jun Tan
Cast: Zach Gilford, Amber Heard, William Hurt, Alex Hurt, Dallas Roberts, Kathleen Quinlan and William Devane.
Runtime: 101 minutes
Released: Sept. 10, 2011
Awards: Best Narrative Feature Film and Best Actor from 2010 Alaska International Film Festival and Best Cinematography from 2010 Ashland Independent Film Festival

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1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. DebraRosario35 #

    Great trailer.