A River Runs Through It (film)

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A River Runs Through It
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Redford
Screenplay byRichard Friedenberg
Based onA River Runs Through It
by Norman Maclean
Produced by
CinematographyPhilippe Rousselot
Edited by
Music byMark Isham
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 9, 1992 (1992-10-09)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12 million[1]
Box office$66 million

A River Runs Through It is a 1992 American drama film directed by Robert Redford, and starring Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Brenda Blethyn and Emily Lloyd. It is based on the 1976 semi-autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, adapted for the screen by Richard Friedenberg. Set in and around Missoula, Montana, the story follows two sons of a Presbyterian minister, one studious and the other rebellious, as they grow up and come of age in the Rocky Mountain region during a span of time from roughly World War I to the early days of the Great Depression, including part of the Prohibition era.[2]

The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and was also nominated for Best Music, Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film grossed over $66 million and received positive reviews from critics.


The Maclean brothers, Norman and Paul, grow up in Missoula, Montana, with their mother, Clara, and their father, Rev. John Maclean, a Presbyterian minister, from whom they learn a love of fly fishing for trout in the Blackfoot River. Norman and Paul are home-schooled under the strict moral and academic code of their father. Norman leaves to attend college at Dartmouth. When he returns six years later during the Prohibition era and the Jazz Age, he finds that Paul has become a highly skilled fisherman and a hard-drinking, fearless investigative journalist working for a newspaper in Helena.

Norman attends a Fourth of July dance and meets Jessie Burns, a flapper whose father runs the general store in Wolf Creek. Immediately smitten, Norman calls her the next morning and sets up a double date. Norman and Jessie go on their first date at the Hot Springs speakeasy. Paul arrives with his date, a similarly hard-drinking Cheyenne woman named Mabel, who is treated as an inferior by the local white crowd.

Soon after, Norman is called to bail Paul out of jail after Paul is arrested for hitting a man who insulted Mabel. The desk sergeant tells Norman that Paul has angered local criminals by falling behind in his debts from a big poker game at the Lolo speakeasy. Norman offers to give Paul money, but Paul brushes him off.

After Norman and Jessie go on several dates, she asks him to help her alcoholic brother Neal, who is visiting from Southern California. Norman and Paul dislike Neal, but at Jessie's insistence they invite him to go fly fishing. Neal shows up drunk with Rawhide, a prostitute whom he met the night before. Norman and Paul get separated from Neal but fish anyway and return to their car hours later to find that Neal and Rawhide have drunk all the beer, had sex, and passed out naked.

Norman drives an intoxicated Neal home, where Jessie is enraged that the brothers left Neal alone with the beer instead of fishing with him. Norman tells her that he is falling in love with her. Jessie drives away angry but a week later asks Norman to come to the train station to see Neal off. After the train departs, Jessie laments her failure to save Neal from his alcoholism and asks why the people who need help the most will not accept it. Norman shows Jessie a letter from the University of Chicago offering him a faculty position in the Department of English Literature. He tells Jessie that he does not wish to leave Montana and when it becomes clear that it is because of her, she embraces him.

That night, a drunken Norman meets up with Paul and announces his love for Jessie. Paul says they should celebrate but instead takes Norman to the Lolo speakeasy. Paul tries to get in on the poker game in the backroom, but the dealer will not let him play because he already owes so much. Paul tells Norman that he isn't leaving since he is feeling lucky and that he will convince the others to let him play. Norman reluctantly drives off after Paul asks him to go fishing the next day.

Blackfoot River

Norman is relieved when Paul arrives the following morning, as he feared for his brother's life. Norman tells his family that he is going to accept the job in Chicago. Norman, Paul, and their father go fly fishing one last time. Norman urges his brother to come with him and Jessie to Chicago, but Paul says he will never leave Montana. He hooks a huge rainbow trout that drags him down the river rapids before he lands it. Their father tells Paul that he has become a wonderful fisherman and an artist in the craft, much to Paul's delight.

Just before Norman is to leave for Chicago, police inform him that Paul was beaten to death. Norman breaks the news to his parents. Years later, Mrs. Maclean, Norman, Jessie, and their two children listen to a sermon given by Rev. Maclean soon before his own death. Rev. Maclean preaches about being unable to help loved ones who are destroying themselves and will not accept help. All that those who truly care for such a self-destructive person can do, Rev. Maclean concludes, is to give unconditional love, even without understanding why.

The closing scene shows an elderly Norman Maclean fishing on the same river as director Robert Redford narrates the final lines from Maclean's original novella.


In addition, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Van Gravage portray the childhood versions of Norman and Paul, respectively, while director Robert Redford provides the uncredited narration, in the first person voice of a senior Norman.



The Redeemer Lutheran Church in Livingston, Montana, used for the Presbyterian church scenes

Although both the book and movie are set in Missoula and on the Blackfoot River, it was filmed in late June to early July 1991 in south central Montana in Livingston and Bozeman,[2] and on the nearby upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers. The waterfall shown is Granite Falls, in the mountains 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Jackson, Wyoming.[3][4] Filming was completed in early September 1991.

An article published in the Helena Independent Record in July 2000, based on recollections of people who knew both brothers, noted a number of specifics about the Macleans — notably various chronological and educational details about Paul Maclean's adult life — that differ somewhat from their portrayal in the film and novella.[5]


Mark Isham, who would go on to compose the scores to most Robert Redford-directed films, composed the musical score for the film. Originally, Elmer Bernstein was hired to score the film. However, after Redford and Bernstein disagreed over the tone of the music, Bernstein was replaced by Isham.[6] Rushed for time, Isham completed the score within four weeks at Schnee Studio of Signet Sound Studios in Hollywood, CA. Upon release, the music was met with positive reviews earning the film nominations for both Grammy and Academy awards. The A River Runs Through It (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) was released on October 27, 1992.[7]


It premiered at Bozeman, Montana, with a theatrical release on October 9 in the United States.[8]

Home media[edit]

A River Runs Through It was originally released on VHS on May 19, 1993. It was released on DVD in 1999 and a deluxe DVD edition in 2005 in similar packaging style as Legends Of The Fall, which also received a deluxe edition dvd release that year.[9] It was reissued on Blu-ray in July 2009 by Sony Pictures with six extra features including 17 deleted scenes and a documentary titled Deep Currents: Making 'A River Runs Through It' with interview segments of the cast and crew.[10]


Box office[edit]

Released on October 9, 1992, the film grossed $43,440,294 in the United States and Canada.[11] In 1993, it grossed $22.9 million for a worldwide total of over $66 million.[12]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 6.79/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Tasteful to a fault, this period drama combines a talented cast (including a young Brad Pitt) with some stately, beautifully filmed work from director Robert Redford."[13] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[14] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[15]

Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars. He wrote “Redford and his writer, Richard Friedenberg, understand that most of the events in any life are accidential or arbitrary, especially the crucial ones, and we can exercise little conscious control over our destinies.”[16]

Much of the praise focused on Pitt's portrayal of Paul, which has been cited as his career-making performance.[17] Despite the critical reception, Pitt was very critical of his performance on the film: "Robert Redford made a quality movie. But I don't think I was skilled enough. I think I could have done better. Maybe it was the pressure of the part, and playing someone who was a real person — and the family was around occasionally — and not wanting to let Redford down."[18]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Richard Friedenberg Nominated
Best Cinematography Philippe Rousselot Nominated
Academy Awards[19] Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Richard Friedenberg Nominated
Best Cinematography Philippe Rousselot Won
Best Original Score Mark Isham Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Awards Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Philippe Rousselot Nominated
Artios Awards[20] Best Casting for Feature Film – Drama Elisabeth Leustig Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Cinematography Philippe Rousselot Nominated
Best Original Score Mark Isham Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[21] Best Director – Motion Picture Robert Redford Nominated
Grammy Awards[22] Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television Mark Isham Nominated
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Language Film Robert Redford Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[23] Best Music Score Mark Isham Runner-up
USC Scripter Awards[24] Richard Friedenberg (screenwriter);
Norman Maclean (author)
Young Artist Awards[25] Best Young Actor Under 10 in a Motion Picture Joseph Gordon-Levitt Won


  1. ^ "AFI-Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Toby (October 11, 1992). "A River Runs Through It". Washington Post. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  3. ^ McMillion, Scott (June 20, 2003). "Writers, professors read A River Runs Through It". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  4. ^ A River Runs Through It filming locations. Archived October 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Kidston, Martin J. (July 9, 2000). "Paul MacLean in Helena". Independent Record. Helena, Montana. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  6. ^ "Filmtracks:A River Runs Through It (Mark Isham)". Filmtracks.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  7. ^ Mark Morton. "A River Runs Through It [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  8. ^ Festival Celebrates 25th Anniversary Of "A River Runs Through It" - By JACKIE YAMANAKA, SEP 12, 2017
  9. ^ A River Runs Through It: Deluxe Edition | November 29, 2005
  10. ^ A River Runs Through It Blu-ray DigiBook | Sony Pictures | 1992 | 124 min | Jul 28, 2009
  11. ^ "A River Runs Through It (1992)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  12. ^ Klady, Leonard (January 3, 1994). "Int'l top 100 earn $8 bil". Variety. p. 1.
  13. ^ "A River Runs Through It Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  14. ^ "A River Runs Through It Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  15. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "River Runs Through It" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger. "A River Runs Through It movie review (1992) | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com/. Retrieved 2023-03-18.
  17. ^ Turan, Kenneth (9 October 1992). "Reverence Runs Deep in 'River'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  18. ^ "Brad Pitt: The EW interview". Entertainment Weekly.
  19. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Archived from the original on 9 November 2014. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  20. ^ "Nominees/Winners". Casting Society of America. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  21. ^ "A River Runs Through It – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  22. ^ "1993 Grammy Award Winners". Grammy.com. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  23. ^ "The Annual 18th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  24. ^ "Past Scripter Awards". USC Scripter Award. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  25. ^ "14th Annual Youth In Film Awards". YoungArtistAwards.org. Archived from the original on 2014-04-09. Retrieved 2011-03-31.

External links[edit]