At its best River is an exciting, pulse-pumping and fast-paced chase movie, but nothing more than adrenaline fuels its narrative. John, the fugitive doctor, is sketchily archetypal, but if writer-director Jamie M. Dagg was aiming for an everyman he hasn’t written in nearly enough back story for him to be relatable. Hence what should have been a high-stakes run from the law is rendered virtually meaningless. Rather than an urgently ticking clock the runtime slows to the crawl of sand through a glass timer, though Dagg does add a kink by avoiding what always feels like the obvious and inevitable conclusion.
River tries throughout to endorse a sympathetic response to John, but his exact motivations are foggy so his continued flight lapses into repetitive and irritating silliness. Ultimately the screenplay misguidedly attempts to shoehorn him into a heroic martyr role which betrays a twisted sense of morality. John’s only and overwhelming characteristic is single-mindedness, and River becomes selfish and disrespectful through its obsessive hold on his perspective; almost no concern is shown for the victim of the original crime, and John’s drastic final act decision fails to convince. Similarly, the crumbling convictions of a colleague are more plot necessity than character development.
Once John goes on the run Sutherland is watchable enough despite the clichéd assortment of over-exaggerated heavy breathing, hair tugs, and intense frowning which make up his performance. The medical scenes, however, barely approach Casualty’s standard of acting. The Lao characters are, however, played with dignity and nuance.
River is a third rate thriller that just about manages to hold the attention but it falls short of actually thrilling. Despite rigid adherence to genre, including overwraught music, there’s barely any tension or mystery, and the dearth of social commentary on police corruption is a wasted opportunity.
CAST: Rossif Sutherland, Douangmany Soliphanh, Sara Botsford, Ted Atherton
DIRECTOR: Jamie M. Dagg
WRITER: Jamie M. Dagg
SYNOPSIS: In the south of Laos, an American volunteer doctor becomes a fugitive after he intervenes in the sexual assault of a young woman. When the assailant’s body is pulled from the Mekong River, things quickly spiral out of control.