Blue River (1995 TV Movie)
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In a small Wisconsin town of Blue River, secrets run deep. And for Henry Howland, (Sam Elliott), high school principal and repressive moral Beacon of his community, they are about to explode in a shocking series of events that will shatter the smooth surface of his life forever.
Nick Stahl plays the young brother of the family slowly learning the secrets that the family and community holds hostage. His wildly brilliant brother (Jerry O'Connell) isn't what you call a good son. But when Henry Howland finally gets to him you will start to see the soft side that will destroy him bit-by-bit. Nick's best friend (Patrick Renna - The Sandlot) is a wild child also. He also has a mysterious side too. He loves to set old shacks and buildings on fire, likes to look at woman undress, and loves to take his mother's car out on the town while drinking hard liquor. What's so wild about that!?!
You're probably thinking this is one big messed up film but it isn't. It's one of the best Hallmark Entertainment movies I have ever seen. You'll laugh, cry, and be swept away as the secrets unfold in this mysterious drama. I recommend it for anyone who likes the drama genre (like me) and whenever you see it in the video store, rent it!!!
Let's start with the worst -- Jerry O'Connell's performance... or maybe his hair piece...no, the acting wins out by a ... oh, I'm not going to say it.. Having only seen O'Connell in Stand By Me, where his character is rather endearing, his hammy overacting here came as quite a jarring surprise. One can almost hear O'Connell thinking, "I am an Actor!" every time he is on screen. He telegraphs every thought, every move, of his character, Lawrence, turning each into a "special moment." It doesn't help that his character is supposed to be mercurial and edgy, giving him an excuse to over emote. Check him out as he swills a beer and dramatically dashes the plastic cup to the ground. It is difficult not to laugh.
On the up side here is Nick Stahl's performance. Seeing these actors as a foil for each other only serves to highlight Stahl's talent all the more. Where O'Connell's artificiality is irritating, Stahl's naturalness is inspiring. He manages to take a much less meaty character than O'Connell's and imbue him with a depth and emotional reality that leaves a lasting impression. In the intense confrontations between the two brothers, Stahl's acting is the emotional center. As his character begins to see the cracks in his brother's lies, he allows the anger and dismay to naturally shine through.
Overall, the supporting actors here do a fine job. The scenes between Stahl's character and that played by Patrick Renna are great. Renna builds a complex and compelling youth whose own destructive nature mirrors that of Lawrence. Susan Dey looks great here in her fragile kookiness, but one gets the feeling that some of her scenes may have been cut out, leaving her character a bit underdeveloped. This is even more true for Sam Elliott, playing the flawed Henry Howland well, yet ultimately remaining flat. As the younger sister, Jean Marie Barnwell was impressive in her few scenes and left me thinking I will keep my eyes open for her in the future.
Blue River is well worth seeing despite its flaws. One can't help wishing that this project had been financed as a film rather than a TV movie, since it has such a fine script and might have done well. See it for the decent performances and story .... or to giggle at O'Connell's very bad hair day.
In the past Single mom Susan Dey is raising O'Connell with his brother (now played by Nick Stahl), and sister (Jean Marie Barnwell), in a small Wisconsin town. Young Stahl idolizes brother O'Connell, despite his juvenile delinquent tendencies. They live in a lovely home, but dysfunction reigns. Influenced by O'Connell, Stahl befriends Patrick Renna (as Zoltan Morris), a kid with one testicle and a taste for arson. Meanwhile, Ms. Dey takes comfort in Christianity, and dates religious principal Sam Elliott (as Henry Howland). Mr. Elliott is raising a disabled daughter
Based on a novel by Ethan Canin and neatly directed by Larry Elikann, "Blue River" (their town) is a strange but satisfying TV drama. Things get off to a rocky start with O'Connell's freakish "Planet of the Apes" make-up job - but, this is more the result of uneven production values than skill; other aspects of the film look very good. The performances are excellent, right down to smallish roles like the one played by Merritt Wever; her "Lottie" is an outstanding debut. Although not finally nominated, it's likely that a few of the participants were considered for "Emmy" awards.
******* Blue River (11/21/95) Larry Elikann ~ Jerry O'Connell, Nick Stahl, Susan Dey, Sam Elliott
The film has more of an appearance of bringing up such mature issues as sexual politics, vengeance, obsessive behavior, but due to the plot weakness, it can't face them squarely.
It compares to a certain extent with such brother on brother movies as "A River Runs Through It" but lacks the thoroughness that makes greatness, as with such a movie as "To Kill A Mockingbird"