Mel Gibson Drama On Netflix Is A Triumph Of The Human Spirit

By TeeJay Small | Published

the river

These days, Mel Gibson is kind of seen as radioactive to the general public, due to his many noted instances of problematic behavior. Regardless, the A-lister has an impressive catalogue of films which can’t be denied, even with a few duds thrown into the mix. One criminally overlooked Mel Gibson film, 1984’s The River, is currently available to stream on Netflix.

The Cast And Crew

the river

The River was written by Robert Dillon and Julian Barry, and directed by On Golden Pond‘s Mark Rydell. It stars Mel Gibson alongside Sissy Spacek, Shane Bailey, Becky Jo Lynch, Scott Glenn, Don Hood, and Billy Green Bush. The film, which was distributed by Universal Pictures, received poor reviews, with Gibson’s performance serving as one major misstep, as many audiences felt the young up-and-comer was completely miscast in his role.

Mel Miscast?

Apparently Mel Gibson begged and demanded Rydell to cast him in the leading role in The River, as the character reminded Gibson of his father. After arguing with the actor for weeks, Rydell finally caved after hearing Gibson run through the lines in an authentic-sounding Tennessee farmer accent. Gibson would later go on to admit that he was too young for the role, and not traditionally rugged enough to pull off a convincing farm hand for general audiences.

An Oscar Nomination Magnet

the river

Despite failing to please audiences, and losing millions at the box office, The River did manage to take home an Academy Award. The River was nominated for Best Actress, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score, and ultimately won the Special Achievement Award in Sound Effects Editing.

The Story

The narrative of The River centers on Tom Garvey, a Tennessee farm owner who has fallen on hard times financially due to a major economic downturn. After the crop yield is decimated by flooding from a nearby river, Tom and his wife Mae consider selling, only to learn that their land is worth pennies on the dollar as a result of the decimated economy. Other local business owners, such as the local bank, the senator, and the owner of a nearby milling company, also create complications for the Garvey’s.

As the film continues, Mae suffers an accident on the farm that nearly leaves her crippled, machines begin to break down, and the Garvey’s find themselves completely at their wits end. Eventually, the couple turn to the community for help, asking them to volunteer to build a levee in the nearby river. As the film builds to its conclusion, Tom and the mill owner lock horns in a battle of stubbornness, preventing either of them from expanding their family businesses.

Stream It Now


While The River is billed as a classic American dream tale, the film ultimately falls flat. The artsy production helps to explain why it was recognized by the Academy in the field of cinematography and sound, and Sissy Spacek’s performance is a career-best. However, the film has very little to cling to in terms of story, and Mel Gibson provides a tiring performance as Tom Garvey, no matter how much he wanted to cosplay as his dad.

At the end of the day, The River gets a rating of 2 stars out of 5. It’s not horrible, but there are certainly better movies more deserving of your time. If you’re interested in seeing the film for yourself, The River is available to stream on Netflix.