It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The River Wild" is one of the movies you want to play along with, you really do, but it gets so many details subtly wrong that finally you lose patience and turn on it. It's a replay of the "Deliverance" formula, in which city folks try their luck in nature, and find that the most dangerous predator is Man. Just because it's been done before doesn't mean it can't work again. But it requires more care at the nuts and bolts level than this film is able to provide.
The movie stars Meryl Streep as a former Montana river guide who wants to take her family back home for a white water rafting expedition. Her husband (David Strathairn) is reluctant; he's a workaholic who has seriously alienated his young son by making it obvious he prefers his office to his home. But at the last minute dad does join the family and its faithful dog Maggie, for the long-awaited vacation.
As they embark, they become aware of another group of rafters - three rough-hewn men, led by Kevin Bacon. And as they float further downstream, away from roads and civilization, they can't seem to shake the other boat. Strathairn even saves Bacon from drowning, knocking him out when he panics and threatens to pull them both under. ("You saved my life," Bacon tells him, adding the movie's best line: "You didn't have to hit me, though.") It's obvious the strange men are bad guys; what other function could they serve in the movie? But just to be sure we don't miss the point, the screenplay supplies one of those handy movie radios - the kind where you switch it on, and it immediately supplies a news item exactly describing the suspicious characters. Then one of the three men disappears (and there are ominous fly-buzzing noises on the sound track as Maggie sniffs in the bushes).
And it becomes clear that Streep will be required to guide all of these people though (ominous drum roll) the Gauntlet.