Tuesday, June 12, 2007


This Time, The Accent's on Action

BLOGGER'S NOTE: This post is part of the Action Heroine Blog-a-thon being coordinated by Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience Blog.

By Odienator
Meryl Streep is many things: She is to accents what Lon Chaney was to faces. She is the most nominated actress in Oscar history. She is equally at home in comedy or drama, and she's sometimes too mannered in both. She was not, however, anybody's idea of an action hero. Both Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton had cornered the market when The River Wild came along, so casting Meryl as the action heroine was a bit of stunt casting akin to asking Kate Hepburn to beat someone's ass with nunchucks. Imagine Bette Davis flying through the air while a huge explosion went off behind her, followed by her doing a somersault while holding the two guns she'll use to blow away the villain mid flip. As she lands, she'll look at the bullet ridden body of her nemesis, shake her head and say "Peter, Peter, Peter!" This seemed less preposterous than casting Meryl Streep as an action heroine.

Director Curtis Hanson has been known for making odd casting choices that somehow paid off. Before he put Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential and after he put freaky French femme fou Isabelle Huppert in The Bedroom Window, Hanson cast Streep as Gail, the feisty mom who takes her son river rafting for his 10th birthday. Her former life as a river guide, coupled with her missing Deliverance when it was in theaters, gives her the false notion this is a good idea. She is joined by her workaholic husband, Tom (David Straithairn), who originally turned down her invitation. Their family bonding adventure turns into a nightmare when she runs afoul of Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly), two thieves who have stolen a large sum of money.

When Wade falls overboard and nearly drowns, Tom saves his bacon. Wade repays him by kidnapping Gail and her kid, forcing her to help the thieves escape with the stolen loot. To succeed, Gail must navigate through a treacherous rapids section known as the Gauntlet, a stretch of water as violent and terrible as the Clint Eastwood movie that shares its name.

Once the action kicks in, Streep silences any doubt that she can hang with the Big Girls. With her slightly dieseled arms, she paddles through the Gauntlet assisted by Robert Elswit's cin-tog and Jerry Goldsmith's score. Though the outcome is never in doubt, seeing Streep in an action sequence apparently doing her own stunts adds a level of suspense and excitement to the proceedings. Even though the film takes some of the action out of the hands of its heroine, there is still enough to make Streep credible. She also gets to handle a gun, something every action heroine from Pam Grier on down should have the opportunity to do in her film.

Perhaps the flimsiness of the plot prohibited Hanson from casting a known action film actress in the role. One look at Weaver or Hamilton and you knew they'd immediately ram an oar into the villain's orifice. While they may have been better at outrunning aliens and cyborgs turned politicians, Streep was more masterful at handling the shadings of family tension that make up the majority of The River Wild. Watch how her subtle, girly reactions to the younger Wade's flirtations turn into outright hatred of the character when he puts her family in danger.

The one thing Gail has in common with her sisters in action, Ripley and Sarah Connor, is using her maternal instinct as the catalyst to kick ass. This notion seems quaint nowadays, with younger characters such as Lara Croft and Keira Knightley's babe from that Disney Ride movie putting a boot to booty just for the thrill of it all. Gail doesn't get into as many fights or set pieces as her contemporaries, but the character does enough to be allowed entry into the Women in Action Blog-a-thon.

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Streep made The River Wild so much better than it needed to be.
omg!! i never imagin streep as an action heroine!! i must wath this movie asap!! jesus, she's g-d!
Very unconventional pick for the Action Heroine blog-a-thon, odienator. I agree with you that the actors and the production values couldn't have been better, but the script sure could have been.

Deliverance immediately comes to mind as a thriller with real menace and unease in the wilderness. The River Wild was sort of Disney the whole way, but it was novel to see Meryl Streep fighting for her life. Too bad they couldn't really tailor the script to her sensibility.
Joe: I agree with everything you've said. The script is flimsy and cheats on more than one occasion. The acting elevates the film, and I was surprised that Meryl pulled off a credible action heroine.

Deliverance, for all the "squeal like a pig" jokes it inspired, is still one of the most terrifying and uncompromising movies ever made, a vicious dressing down of macho bullshit.
I always find interesting when you hear Ned Beatty talk about his rape scene from Deliverance. He says men always make a joke of it and emphasize "the squeal like a pig" part while female viewers are the ones who empathize and understand the horror of the scene. The sad thing is that while it is a vicious dressing down of macho bullshit, that message flies over the heads of the people who most need to realize that.
this is the funniest sentence in the whole blog-a-thon

"...akin to asking Kate Hepburn to beat someone's ass with numchucks"
I also found the idea of Bette Davis going all John Woo very amusing. Though I would have ended it with her surveying all the devastation around her and exclaiming, "What a dump!"

The "Gauntlet" joke was funny too. Am I the only person who liked that movie? (Okay, haven't seen it since it came out and I was nought but a zygote, but still...)
Bob, you can rewrite my screenplays anytime! That played much better!

As for The Gauntlet, I was shocked that Richard Donner's Bruce Willis/Mos Def movie ripped off the climactic set piece. I think you might be the only one who liked that Eastwood movie.

Nathaniel: It looks like you got a nice turnout for the blog-a-thon, and there was some good stuff there, including your Peter Pan piece. I thought calling Tinkerbell a bitch was audacious! Like you, I can't see why she's so beloved. But then again, I thought Christopher Robin needed to be institutionalized because he imagined some messed up characters in the Hundred Acre Wood.

By the way, Karate Kate Hepburn dolls are going to sell like hotcakes! She's got four Oscars AND a kung fu grip!
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