The River Wild

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Not to be confused with Wild River.
The River Wild
River wild movie poster.jpg
Original theatrical poster
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Produced by Lawrence Turman
David Foster
Written by Denis O'Neill
Starring Meryl Streep
Kevin Bacon
David Strathairn
John C. Reilly
Joseph Mazzello
Benjamin Bratt
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Maurice Jarre (rejected score)
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Edited by David Brenner
Joe Hutshing
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release dates
  • September 30, 1994 (1994-09-30)
Running time
108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
American Sign Language
Budget $45 million
Box office $94,216,343

The River Wild is a 1994 adventure crime-thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Mazzello as Roarke. The film 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, due to his inability to spend time with his family because of his work as an architect. She, a water rafting expert, decides to take their son, Roarke (Joseph Mazzello), on a holiday rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho, along with their dog, Maggie. Their daughter, Willa (Stephanie Sawyer), accompanies them to Gail's parents' house in Idaho. At the last minute, just when they are about to leave for the almost week-long trip, 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. Thus they leave for the trip, leaving Willa behind to be taken care of by her grandparents.

After a day's rafting, they make camp for the night, but Tom continues to work on his renderings rather than entering fully into the experience. This agitates Roarke, who thinks his father does not really seem to realize he is away from home. They are joined by Wade and Terry, who help to celebrate Roarke's birthday the same night. Gail becomes friendly with Wade. However, after a while he begins acting suspiciously, and she decides it would be best to part ways. During the morning's rafting, he reveals to Roarke that they have a gun with them. As they raft down the river, Gail and Tom 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. Maggie runs off during the melee, avoiding a shot by Wade. 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 is forced to raft at gunpoint down the rest of the river before they all set up camp for the night.

A park ranger named Johnny (Benjamin Bratt), who knows Gail, is whitewater canoeing down the river. He bumps into them. Wade holds the gun to Gail's back, and they pretend everything is okay. Later, Johnny reappears. Wade shoots him and throws him into the rapids.

Wade and Terry want to go down the river to a set of rapids where rafting is no longer allowed, because in recent years one person was killed and another was left paralyzed. They force Gail to raft down through those rapids despite her repeated attempts to flip the raft and so force them out of the river.

During the night, Tom attempts to steal the gun from 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.

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




The film generally received a mixed reaction by critics, although its scenery and cinematography were widely praised. It currently[when?] holds a 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic James Berardinelli praised the production values of the cinematography and score, and the pace of the rafting experience. He also praised Curtis Hanson's directing, likening it to that like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), stating that Hanson, "could manipulate characters and situations within the comfortable confines of a formula plot", and describing The River Wild 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 its cinematography, which he described as "great looking", and the performances of Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep; he described the latter as "putting a lot of 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 emphasized the lack of 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]

Nominations, awards, and recognitions[edit]

Meryl Streep received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominations for best actress for her portrayal of a former river guide. Kevin 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.[citation needed]

Streep's character, Gail, was a Nominated Hero in AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains.[3]


  1. ^ a b Beradinelli, James (1994). "The River Wild". Retrieved March 18, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (1994). "The River Wild". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved March 18, 2009. [dead link]
  3. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees". AFI. 

External links[edit]