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The River Wild Review

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Former river guide Gail, who hopes a weekend rafting in the wilds will repair the emotional rift between herself, husband Tom and their resentful son when they hook up with two desperate robbers on the run, Wade and sidekick Terry who hijack the raft and the family to escape down the rapids.

★★★★★

Meryl Streep as action hero may sound an unlikely transition for the premier prestige actress of the 80s, but there's no diminution of class or skill in her muscular new act. With the superior work of Streep, Bacon and Strathairn, suspense and mayhem orchestrator Curtis Hanson (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle) shapes a by-the-numbers hostage drama-cum-sentimental family adventure into a very neat package of action thrills and engaging interplay.

Streep, healthy of glow and bristling of bicep, is former river guide Gail, who hopes a weekend rafting in the wilds will repair the emotional rift between herself, husband Tom (Strathairn), and their resentful son (Joseph Mazello), with their labrador aboard to boost the huggy factor. Terror in the great outdoors clearly has speedier benefits for the dysfunctional family than conventional counselling, since the arrival of desperate killers on the scene proves marvellously efficient as a bonding experience. Wade (the insidiously charming Bacon) and sidekick Terry (Reilly) are robbers on the run with an ingenious if misconceived plan to elude pursuers by negotiating some legendarily impassable rapids. After ingratiating themselves with our good folk, the chilling truth comes out: "I need your wife to get down the river. I need your son to control her. You and the dog are expendable." Cue multiple trussings up, scalings of cliffs, gunplay and relationship shifts amid terrific set pieces in raging torrents.

Seemingly inconsequential bits of business and back story are cleverly worked into a suitable wet 'n' wild climax, and the expert players bring unexpected subtleties to the script: witness the frisson of sexual tension between Streep and Bacon, the plausible depths and familiarity between Streep and Strathairn. Such touches, and Hanson's adroit handling of both the human drama and the battle with the elements, lift this satisfyingly above routine action and into swell, exciting fun.

Exciting in parts, Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon doing their best, but arc of suspense doesn't quite bring you to the edge of your seats.