VOD Review: River

First-time filmmaker Jamie M. Dagg directs Rossif Sutherland in this Canadian crime-thriller as American volunteer and doctor John Lake, whose residency at a Laos hospital is cut short after disobeying his superior. He later encounters a sexual assault on a local beach and intervenes, which leads to staggering and life-altering consequences as he attempts to reach the Thai border. River begins with Lake constructing a patient leg amputation, confirming from the get-go that this is a rebellious, no-holds-barred American that we are dealing with here. Its lead actor derives from a long line of acting royalty most notably brother Kiefer and father Donald, who remains one of cinema's most commendable and cult veteran actors.

However, this time around, it's Rossif's turn to shine, which he does in an impressive and subtle fashion; leaving an impact on the viewer throughout he duration of the film. River bodes a somewhat Nordic quality - accentuating certain elements from the likes of The Bridge and The Killing - met with a grindhouse feel through its graphic medical scenes and grotty setting. In addition, one of the film's most commendable features is undoubtedly its impressive cinematography with director of photography Adam Marsden strongly contributing to the film's subdued and gritty tone and, notably, making the most of Laos' sombre yet beautiful surroundings. 

The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and went down well with its native audience receiving the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Claude Jutra Award for Best Film by a First-Time Director. Sutherland was too the recipient of a Best Actor nomination at the 4th Canadian Screen Awards after receiving critical praise for his portrayal of Lake. 

Now, there is no denying that Dagg makes an impressive directorial debut, offering audiences a glimpse into what the young filmmaker has to offer with a talented and, no doubt, long career ahead of him. However, whilst River offers stunning cinematography and ambition in its location shooting and strong performances, the plot itself ceases the viewer to invest emotionally. Whilst Sutherland gives an impressive and powerful performance as an American on the run, the lack of substance and originality leaves you feeling somewhat unsatisfied; unfortunately asking yourself why you spent an hour and a half watching something that sadly had nothing new to offer.

Victoria Russell


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