Norman Maclean, a retired professor of English at the University of Chicago, began work on his first novel when he was in his 70s. The story was one he carried for more than 40 years. It took him two years to complete, and much of it was written during summers in a remote cabin on Seeley Lake near Missoula, Montana. The cabin has been built with his father and brother in 1922. It was deeply personal and upon finishing the book he was able to cry for the first time for his brother. A trust between director Robert Redford and Maclean developed when they met at Redford's Sundance Institute in Provo, Utah. Following Maclean's death in 1990, the filmmaker continued to work closely with his family to complete the film as he would have wished.
The story is about two brothers and their father, who is a minister, and the river that affects their lives. They share fly fishing but the stern stoicism bred into the brothers by their father made it difficult to express feelings for one another. The family, descended from Scots, produced two very different sons. Norman (Craig Sheffer) the older son, emulates his father. He enjoys Shakespeare and Wordsworth and becomes a professor of English. His brother Paul (Brad Pitt) is different. Handsome and daring, he becomes a newspaper man. It is his life which is transitory, unstable yet brilliant, which his brother writes about 40 years later.
Redford has been known to be a brilliant director ever since Ordinary People. In this production he brings out the suppressed feelings of love which the brothers felt for each other through a narration by the author in his 70's. The fly fishing was the glue that kept the brothers and their father in touch. It was the one event in their lives in which they competed equally and with little tension. The author recognizes that men in his family could not express love for each other openly so it came on their fishing trips in the form of respect and admiration of their skill with a fly rod.
Some films grab at you and pull emotions. This one warms each character as he matures. Redford quietly leaves a good feeling like a smooth edge of a blanket as he follows the three men and the river that passes through their lives. He again displays his skilled hand at presenting the feelings inside his characters in a film that should be seen.
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