Sissy Spacek received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Mae Garvey, another woman who's determined to survive hardships on a farm. Although The River received four nominations, I don't think that Sissy was ever a real contender for the Best Actress Oscar. She may have gotten ahead of Vanessa, but that's just because the movie got more nominations. I suppose Sally Field's second win was inevitable after Peggy Aschcroft turned out to be supporting, wasn't it. We'll never know, especially with such a weak field.
I'm (sort of) grateful that I watched The River so long after Country as I would seriously mix up the two of them in my mind. They are so incredibly alike in many ways, I even think that guy at the auction was played by the same person in both movies. However, The River doesn't have that devastating, depressing edge, which made Country so memorable. I can conclude that The River is a more watered and lighter version of Country. I guess that had a lot to do with Mark Rydell who tends to go this way. On Golden Pond worked because it was very sentimental material in the first place but The River shouldn't have been approached this way. Still, I have to acknowledge Vilmos Zsigmond's great (as always) cinematography, which makes the movie memorable visually, at the very least.
Sissy Spacek is no stranger to this blog and having already reviewed five of her six nominated performances, I can say I wasn't worried about what this performance would turn out to be. Even in her weaker efforts (Missing or Crimes of the Heart), there's her glowing, radiant personality that makes her a thrill to look at, not to mention her incredible performance in Coal Miner's Daughter, Carrie or In the Bedroom. All in all, Sissy is a wonderful actress who can turn the weakest, most underwritten parts into something extraordinary or at least intriguing.
That way, The River was an incredible challenge for her. Mae Garvey's character is (not even) paper thin. I was actually really stunned, why an actress, at the peak of her wonderful career, took on such a nothing character. Mae seems to be a mere accessory for Mel Gibson's character. The thing that really bothered me was how many opportunities in Mae's character were ignored by the writer and the director. She could have been a constantly fascinating personality, very much like Jessica Lange's Jewell, who is a simple woman but a complex character in the film (or Sally Field for that matter who didn't get much to work with either and yet had some kind of an impact). With these basics, not even a brilliant actress like Sissy could have worked miracles with Mae.
As I said, Sissy's radiant presence makes up for lots of things. Well, certainly not for not having a complete character who was lost somewhere in the beginning. I couldn't quite make it out what she was doing there. I guess her character was intended to be support. In fact, a less well-known would have been campaigned in supporting (but a less well-known actress never would have had any recognition for this, let's be honest). Since she's reduced to be an accessory to men in this film, Sissy's performance works the best when she's around Mel Gibson and Scott Glenn, especially the latter. Whenever they share a scene, its atmosphere changes and the whole movie begins to work, thanks to their wonderful chemistry.
The highlight of Sissy's performance is also connected to Glenn, after his character takes Mae home after her injury (following a clumsily directed scene, which wasn't nearly as exciting and intense as it could have been), when she refuses to think about cheating her husband. Sissy elevated another potentially clumsy scene with the way she portrayed the emotions of this woman. It was the only time the movie had some real depth and was indeed real.
With Mel Gibson, Sissy is much less outstanding and their chemistry is not nearly as strong as the one with Glenn. Still, they share some tender, nice scenes but it's just all too familiar and clichéd with the moody, sometimes agressive husband and the calm, loving wife. However, The River even fails to use clichés for its own good and makes it all so boring. I would have even forgiven fake drama in exchange for some real story.
I wish to be lenient and forgiving with Sissy about this performance but I'm just unable too feel anything about this movie and her performance. I just wasn't intrigued for a momen, except for that surprisingly tender, life-saving scene with Scott Glenn. It's really a real challange to even think something about this movie and character.
To sum up, Sissy Spacek is just wasted in The River. Her character has no depth, very few juicy scenes and Sissy deserves so much more than this. It's not really her fault, it has more to do with the fact that the movie doesn't seem to care about her character and forces her into the background. While she shines in a few scenes, it's just not enough to make up for everything else (which is nothing). I'm very sad that I had to finish my journey with Sissy on a bit sour note.
What do you think?
Yes, I'm back, finished with my exams, ready to focus on more important things. I wish it happened with some wonderful performance. I'll be posting regularly until July then I'm going on a trip and won't have Internet access but I'll write some posts in advance and time them. You just won't get repliest to your comments. I hope you missed me. :)))