A River Runs Through It (film)

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A River Runs Through It
A river runs through it cover.jpg
North American theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Redford
Produced by Jake Eberts
Robert Redford
Patrick Markey
Screenplay by Richard Friedenberg
Based on A River Runs Through It
by Norman Maclean
Narrated by Robert Redford (uncredited)
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Philippe Rousselot
Edited by Robert Estrin
Lynzee Klingman
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
(United States)
(United Kingdom)
Release date
  • October 9, 1992 (1992-10-09)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12 million[1]
Box office $43 million[2]

A River Runs Through It is a 1992 American period coming-of-age drama film directed by Robert Redford and starring Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Brenda Blethyn, and Emily Lloyd. It is a based on the 1976 semi-autobiographical novel 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.[3]

The film won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1993 and was nominated for two other Oscars, for Best Music, Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film grossed $43 million in US domestic returns.[2]


The Maclean brothers, Norman and Paul, grow up in Missoula, Montana with their father, Presbyterian minister John, from whom they learn a love of fly fishing for trout in the Blackfoot River. They learn to cast using a ticking metronome. The boys become accomplished fishermen as a result. Norman and Paul are home taught and must adhere to the strict moral and educational code of their father. As they grow older, it becomes clear that Norman is more disciplined and studious, while Paul is fun-loving, wild, and the more talented fisherman.

Norman attends a July 4th dance with his friends after returning home from six years away at Dartmouth, where he meets Jessie Burns. Paul has become a reporter at a newspaper in Helena. He has angered many of the locals by falling behind in a big poker game at a bar that is a front for gambling and prostitution. He is also dating an Indian woman, Mabel, who is deemed inferior by the community. Paul is arrested after fighting a man who has insulted her, and Norman is awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from the police to come and bail Paul out of jail.

After Norman and Jessie go on several dates, she asks that Norman make an effort to get along with her brother Neal, who is visiting from California. Norman and Paul do not like Neal, but at Jessie's insistence they invite him to go fishing. Neal shows up drunk with a woman he met at a bar the night before. Norman and Paul decide to fish anyway and return to their car hours later to find that Neal and the woman have drunk all the beer and passed out naked in the sun.

Norman returns a painfully sunburned Neal home, where Jessie is waiting for them. She is angry that the brothers did not fish with Neal. Norman asks Jessie to drive him home, as he had brought Neal back in Neal's car, and he tells her that he is falling for her. She drives away angry but a week later asks Norman to come to the train station to see Neal off. After the train departs, Norman shows Jessie a letter from the University of Chicago: a job offer for an English Literature teaching position. Norman asks Jessie to marry him.

When Norman tells Paul about the job offer and marriage proposal, he urges Paul to come with him and Jessie to Chicago. Paul says that he will never leave Montana. Just before leaving for Chicago, Norman, Paul, and their father go fly fishing one last time. Paul catches a huge fish that drags him down the river through a set of rapids before he finally lands it. John proudly tells him what a wonderful fisherman he has become, and how he is an artist in the craft, much to Paul's delight. They pose for pictures with the huge fish.

Soon after the fishing excursion, Norman is called by the police, who tell him that Paul has been found beaten to death in an alley. Norman goes home and tells his parents the news. Years later, Mrs. Maclean, Norman, Jessie, and their two children listen to a sermon being given by John, who dies soon after. Norman is now an old man, back in the Montana river where he used to fish with his family many years before. He says that nearly everyone from his youth is dead, including Jessie, and that he is haunted by waters.




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, early July 1991 in south central Montana in Livingston and Bozeman,[3] and on the nearby upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers. The waterfall shown is Granite Falls in Wyoming.[4][5] 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.[6]


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.[7] 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 both nominations for Grammy and Academy awards. The A River Runs Through It (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) was released on October 27, 1992.[8]

In some home video releases of the film, Elmer Bernstein is credited as the film's composer despite his score being rejected during post-production.


Critical reception[edit]

Released on October 9, 1992, the film grossed $43,440,294 in US domestic returns.[2] The film holds an 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 44 polled critical reviews. The site's 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."[9] Much of the praise focused on Pitt's portrayal of Paul, which has been cited as his career-making performance.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1993, including Best Cinematography (Philippe Rousselot); Best Music, Original Score (Mark Isham); and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Richard Friedenberg). Rousselot won for Best Cinematography. At the Golden Globes, Robert Redford was nominated for Best Director - Motion Picture, but did not win.


  1. ^ http://catalog.afi.com/Catalog/moviedetails/59375
  2. ^ a b c "A River Runs Through It (1992)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Thompson, Toby (October 11, 1992). "A River Runs Through It". Washington Post. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  4. ^ McMillion, Scott (June 20, 2003). "Writers, professors read A River Runs Through It". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  5. ^ A River Runs Through It filming locations. Archived October 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Kidston, Martin J. (July 9, 2000). "Paul MacLean in Helena". Independent Record. Helena, Montana. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  7. ^ "Filmtracks:A River Runs Through It (Mark Isham)". Filmtracks.com. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  8. ^ Mark Morton. "A River Runs Through It [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  9. ^ "A River Runs Through It". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  10. ^ Turan, Kenneth. "Reverence Runs Deep in 'River'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 30, 2012.

External links[edit]