The River (1984 film)

The River is a 1984 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell, written by Robert Dillon and Julian Barry, and stars Sissy Spacek, Mel Gibson, and Scott Glenn. The film tells the story of a struggling farm family in the Tennessee valley trying to keep its farm from going under in the face of bank foreclosures and floods. The father faces the dilemma of having to work as a strikebreaker in a steel mill to keep his family farm from foreclosure. It was based on the true story of farmers who unknowingly took jobs as strikebreakers at a steel mill after their crops had been destroyed by rain.

The River
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMark Rydell
Produced by
Written by
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyVilmos Zsigmond
Edited bySidney Levin
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
December 19, 1984
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million
Box office$11.5 million

The film was released theatrically on December 19, 1984 by Universal Pictures. It received mixed reviews, with critics praising Spacek's performance and the cinematography, but criticizing the screenplay, execution, and Gibson's performance, whom many considered to have been miscast. It was a box office failure, grossing only $11.5 million against an $18 million budget. Despite that, it received five nominations at the 57th Academy Awards including Best Actress (for Spacek).




Director Mark Rydell viewed the characters in this drama as iconically American, and he was eager to cast Sissy Spacek as the farm wife because of her performance in Coal Miner's Daughter and her home on a farm in near Charlottesville, Virginia. Rydell said, "She is the consummate American rural young woman, with strength and fiber and a luminous quality." Mel Gibson begged Rydell to let him play the Tennessee farmer who reminded him of his father, but the director was reluctant because of Gibson’s Australian accent. Before Gibson left for England to film The Bounty, he begged Rydell not to cast the part yet. Rydell recalled, "He came back to my house in Los Angeles and started reading the script, talking, reading the newspaper, in this perfect Tennessee accent. I was really impressed, even when he stood next to Sissy, who's like a tuning fork when it comes to accents, he had damn well done it."

The River was filmed in the Holston Valley area of Kingsport, Tennessee. The filmmakers purchased 440 acres (1.8 km2) along the Holston River for the farm set and planted corn. Most of the filming was done along Goshen Valley Road and around the Goshen Valley Park area. Goshen Valley Road heads south from highway 11W in Church Hill, Tennessee. The cast and their families moved to the area a month before the start of production to connect with the local people and learn farming skills. The floods in the film were supplied by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers with water from the dam. The bank scene was filmed in the town of Gate City, Virginia. The film was completed for under $18 million.[1][2]

The musical score was by John Williams and also featured songs by country artists including George Strait.


The River was the last of three 1984 films, including Country and Places in the Heart, that shared the themes of a family's devotion to their farm, the destructive force of nature, an unsympathetic bureaucracy and a determined woman who binds her family together.[3] The film received mixed reviews. Mel Gibson later regretted that his portrayal of Tom Garvey was so stubborn that the audience lost sympathy, and said that he had been miscast for the role because he was too young and "pretty" at the time.


The film was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sissy Spacek), Best Cinematography, Best Music, Original Score and Best Sound (Nick Alphin, Robert Thirlwell, Richard Portman and David M. Ronne).[4] It also received a special Oscar for sound effects editing (Kay Rose).


  1. Ester B. Fein (December 16, 1984). "How "The River" Came to the Screen". The New York Times.
  2. Bob Thomas (December 27, 1984). "U.S. Film Maker Casts Dubbed Voices in His Films". Associated Press.
  3. Roger Ebert. "Review of The River". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 2, 2009.
  4. "The 57th Academy Awards (1985) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on December 28, 2011. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
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