The River Thief


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The River Thief
"Events unfold as if we are supposed to take a lesson from them, but it's not at all clear what that is."

Since his standout turn in Super 8, young Joel Courtney has had a lot of work but nothing that has really grabbed cinemagoers' attention. Placing him at the centre of a narrative that combines action and soul-searching drama, The River Thief ought to have been a great bet. Unfortunately, debut writer/director ND Wilson has considerably overreached himself, and though the film serves as an effective reminder of Courtney's talent, it doesn't give him room to do much with it.

Courtney plays Diz, a teenage drifter who travels up and down the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest, stealing what he needs, with little to show for his wilder exploits. His mother died, he says, his father having left before he was born; other characters take this at face value but we never really know the truth. Stumbling into a small town, he becomes unaccountably fascinated by young waitress Selah (Raleigh Cain), and the stubborn indulgence of her grandfather Marty (Tommy Cash, brother of the late Johnny) reels him in. But Diz has helped himself to a bag full of cash belonging to local drug dealer Clyde (Bas Rutten), who is determined to track him down. His head says run, his heart says stay, and his hesitation could put the first people he has ever cared about in danger.

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Wilson's script is badly thought through and smacks of a lack of research. It makes no sense for small town dealers to have as much cash as Clyde does, nor to place themselves at risk as he does - thy behave like villains from some forgotten episode of the The A-Team or Knightrider rather than like real people. Though Selah is pretty enough and has a lot of spirit (sufficient that Wilson feels no apparent need to flesh her out further), we see nothing that explains why Diz has chosen to fixate on her rather than on some other random girl. A potentially redemptive scene in which she explains that he can't just buy her gifts and expect her to fall in love with him as a result is marred by leaden dialogue which saps the potential of both young leads. The grandfather, meanwhile, spouts Bible-inspired homilies incessantly, yet the film never succeeds in developing a coherent moral arc for any of its characters. Events unfold as if we are supposed to take a lesson from them, but it's not at all clear what that is.

Parts of The River Thief are very prettily shot and the early action sequences have sufficient verve to carry viewers along, so it's not all bad - like its central character, it simply loses its way. What starts off as pulsing and energetic - if not quite sympathetic - gives way to something that meanders and gets too easily bogged down.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2016
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The River Thief packshot
A young drifter begins to change his ways, but could the criminals he's stolen from put his new life in danger?

Director: ND Wilson

Writer: ND Wilson

Starring: Joel Courtney, Raleigh Cain, Paul Johansson, Bas Rutten, Tommy Cash

Year: 2016

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US


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