River’s Edge begins with Samson (Daniel Roebuck) sitting next to the lifeless body of his girlfriend, Jamie (Danyi Deats). He strangled her. Betraying no emotion, Samson later tells his friends, and brings them out to the edge of the river to show her corpse. Most of them are not moved. Hey, shit happens. But some of them, Matt (Keanu Reeves), Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) are hugely bothered by seeing their dead friend. They think the police should be notified.
But others want to cover it up. Yea, it sucks that Jamie is dead, but John is their buddy, and they should protect him. This definitely comes into play when the group’s de facto leader, wild-eyed speed freak Layne (Crispin Glover) compels the group to keep the murder a secret, and thinks they should smuggle Samson out of the state before the cops figure out who did the horrible crime.
Matt, Maggie and Clarissa go along for a while. But tensions begin to escalate, and these three are confused on what they should do. Should they go along with Layne and the gang? Or should they tell the police what Samson did? And if they do, what will be the repercussions? Soon they find out that Matt’s younger brother Tim (Joshua John Miller) not only knows about the crime, but also knows one of the friends has gone behind everyone’s backs to report Samson to the police.
Meanwhile, Layne and Samson become more and more at loose ends, and they take refuge at the home of Feck (the late Dennis Hopper), a one-legged, dope dealing biker. Incidentally, Feck killed his own girlfriend years ago. Now he lives with an inflatable sex doll . Oddly enough, Feck acts as a mentor and counsel to Layne and Samson.
River’s Edge does not end things tidily. Black and white morals have become hazy grays of ambivalence, nihilism and detachment. One teacher admonishes a student on how the values of his youth have been destroyed. Ah, yes. the old boomer telling the X-ers about the good old days. Even Feck thinks killing his girlfriend was okay because, hey, it was the ‘60s maaan.
Most chilling about River’s Edge, is it was based on a true story. Also chilling is how these kids assume they have no future so they numb their feelings with drugs and alcohol. The teens in River’s Edge are 180 degrees away from the lovable, wacky suburban cherubs of John Hughes films. In those films, a kid’s biggest problem is a Saturday detention or having your family forgeting your 16th birthday. In River’s Edge, life is a detention, and parents pretty much forget they have kids unless it’s to accuse one of them of stealing her marijuana.
Written by Neil Jiminez and directed by Tim Hunter, River’s Edge boasts of some incredibly honest and brutal performances. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of a generation that when it wasn’t ignored was maligned. As one character states, “You know it’s gonna be like this all day, man. Teachers lecturing us about what kind of monsters we are.” These kids know they are considered losers, so why not act accordingly? River’s Edge is not a comfortable movie to watch, especially if you’re a Generation X-er. “Hey, I was never like that,” you might want to shout at the screen. Yet, if you’re honest you might think, “But of course, some people were like that.” And that’s what makes River’s Edge such a potent of a film.