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Film Review – The River Murders

This DVD Review has been generously sponsored by MR VIDEO, Puma Garage, Nelson Mandela Avenue, Klein Windhoek.

Outlet: MR VIDEO, Nelson Mandela Avenue
Film: The River Murders
Director: Rich Cowan
Screenplay: Steve Anderson
Players: Ray Liotta, Christian Slater
Genre: detective thriller
Rating: **

It is difficult to offer commendation rather than criticism of this film. Although the two principal actors have passed their prime and can no longer claim any position of note as A-list actors, I still assumed that lending their names and talents to this film was a recommendation of sorts.
It is difficult to do much when the basic storyline exceeds credibility so perhaps they were hampered from the start. However, even excessive storylines can be enhanced by a smart screenplay, which, unfortunately, was not the case here. As with many American films of this ilk, most of the characters – even the ones who looked prissy – constantly had a mouthful of feisty expletives of an unsavoury nature. In fact, there comes a stage when the number of expletives so weighs down the message that what the character says becomes virtually incomprehensible. One gathers that a character is angry but garners little beyond that.
At variance with a mediocre storyline and a screenplay of muttered monosyllables, there is the cinematography and the music, both of which lift, and inch up, the film a couple of notches.
The film was called The River Murders but the significance of the river is best portrayed by some glossy cinematography. The opening credits indulge in some fancy abstract shots of river water from below the surface; then the storyline starts with an image of a dead naked woman tangled in the tree roots at the side of the river. Thereafter there is one flashback to suggest that Detective Jack Verdon
(Liotta) had nearly drowned in the river as a child, but he had managed to save himself. The photography of the river suggests its power compared to that of man but, apart from this and the narrative reference, the river has no significance to the storyline of a series of murders, where all of the victims, coincidentally, have been Jack’s former girlfriends.
The serial killer indulges in some ghoulish practices, which are his signature. These are given undue prominence in the dialogue without successfully lifting the level of dramatic tension. A threadbare sub-plot involves Verdon’s suspension from the police force because of what appears to be his direct involvement in the murders. FBI Agent Vukovitch (Slater) is brought in to assist with investigations and to keep an eye on Verdon. Vukovitch is little more than a bully and a thug and adds little to the storyline.
Another effort to give this film respectability is the biblical theme which runs through the film. The killer is patently a religious fanatic, prone to leaving scriptural references at the crime scene and driving these down-to-earth, foul-mouthed detectives to consult their Bibles to try and read some significance into the scriptural references. The viewer is given prior knowledge of the killer, who lurks around the restaurant where Verdon’s wife is a chef and also around Verdon’s partner, an attractive sidekick called Jenny, who seems to have more grey cells than most of the other detectives on the force. The serial killer was fond of quoting Hosea, with gruesome prophecies, such as ‘God will close up the nation’s wombs’. ‘Israel has been a faithless bride’ is another dour prediction.
There are so many murders eventually that it is difficult to keep abreast of events. The death of Verdon’s mother, for example, is initially tossed away in a couple of lines of dialogue and it is only after her funeral that a line of dialogue lets slip that she was yet another victim.
If foreknowledge for the viewer was supposed to heighten tension, this was effective. The innocent women are constantly under threat from this lurking menace. However, when the murderer becomes so active that the film is virtually a slasher film, eventually one is inured to violence and the dismal end of most of these women.
A large part of the problem with the film is that Jack Verdon is not particularly attractive –or likeable. A wild lifestyle until he was 40 appears to be reaping retribution in middle age. An inability to identify or sympathise with the protagonist really dooms the success of a film. Hopefully, the talents of the cinematographer and the composer of the musical score will be recognised to give them further opportunities, but I regret that Liotta and Slater could come full circle with their careers  – with little to look forward to except perhaps the odd appearance in a cornflake commercial.

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