The River Why (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 11, 2011 by  

Heartwarming and entertaining!  “The River Why” is a film adaptation inspired by the popular novel that looks beautiful on Blu-ray and features a coming-of-age storyline that is about self-discovery and one’s passion about fishing.  Worth recommending!

Images courtesy of © 2010 Steel Head Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The River Why


DURATION: 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition Widescreen (2:35:1), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

COMPANY: Image Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (Some Sensuality/Partial Nudity)

Release Date: November 8, 2011

Directed by Matthew Leutwyler

Screenplay by Thomas A. Cohen

Screenplay by John Jay Osborn Jr.

Produced by Kristi Denton Cohen, Matthew Leutwyler

Co-Producer: Amanda Marshall, Josh Murphy

Co-Executive Producer: Nikhil Jassawalla

Executive Producer: Miranda Bailey, Thomas A. Cohen, Charles Mastropietro, David Quinney, Shari Quinney

Associate Producer: Chip Touhey


Zach Gilford as Gus

Amber Heard as Eddy

William Hurt as H20

Dallas Roberts as Titus

Kathleen Quinlan as Ma

William Devane as Dutch Hines

The River Why stars Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”), Amber Heard (The Rum Diaries), William Hurt (“Damages”), Kathleen Quinlan (“Prison Break,” Apollo 13), Dallas Roberts (“The Good Wife”) and William Devane (“24,” Payback).  From book to screen, The River Why took nearly 25 years to complete.  The fly-fishing novel on which it is based went on to be named (by the San Francisco Chronicle) one of the 100 most important novels ever written about the West.  Jason Borger was the technical adviser and fly casting double on the movie—just as he had been in A River Runs Through It.  The film, shot in Oregon, was a green production that was  documented in the SXSW Official Selection, Green Lit ( and has also been nominated for Best Original Score for an Indie Film by Hollywood Music in Media.

“The River Why” is a classic novel from 1983 by David James Duncan and a novel that is loved by those who are passionate about fishing.

The coming-of-age story has inspired many and one of those who were inspired by the novel was Thomas A. Cohen, who purchased the filmmaking rights of the novel back in 1984 and together with wife, producer Kristi Denton Cohen, the two have been active in trying to raise the money to create a film. In fact, when the two were married, in their vows were words inspired by the novel.

And although it took more than 25-years, the Cohen’s were able to pull of a film that was shot in 2008 and now the film is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment.

The film revolves around Gus Orviston (played by Zach Gilford, “Friday Night Lights”, “The Last Winter”), a young man who loves fishing and in fact, feels that he can understand the fish and that communication is what makes him so good at catching them.  As he pontificates about life, he feels that the only true happiness he finds in his life, it’s at the river.

And as Gus is quite the passionate guy when it comes to fly fishing, his parents constant debating about how to fish is an argument that is starting to make his blood boil.

His mother (played by Kathleen Quinlan, “Apollo 13”, “The Hills Have Eyes”) believes in using any way to catch a fish, while his father (played by William Hurt, “A History of Violence”, “Children of a Lesser God”, “The Incredible Hulk”) is a popular author who believes in going by the book when it comes to fishing.

And for Gus, being raised on fishing, the debate by his parents on their perspective towards fishing leads to a heated, ugly argument which leads to Gus leaving home and staying at a cabin near the River Why.  As Gus tries to understand life and to achieve happiness, as a person who loves catching fish, would that be enough to attain happiness in his life?

So, as Gus pursues this life of self-discovery, he tries to live with nature by catching fish, living on his own and trying to make money through the baits he creates.

Meanwhile, Gus has fallen for a beautiful activist (and another person who is passionate about fishing) named Eddy (played by Amber Heard, “Zombieland”, “Drive Angry”, “Pineapple Express”).  Unfortunately, Gus has never been good around girls, nor is he good talking to them when he is around them.

But one day while walking towards the river to go for a swim, he spots Eddy and watches how she catches fish, a natural way that makes him fall in love with her ala love at first sight.  But when he tries to talk to her, unfortunately his shyness makes him speak more gibberish than anything in front of her.  But what are the chances of him ever hooking up with a beautiful girl like her?

Meanwhile, as Gus tries to live the life of catching fish daily, he starts to become homesick but feels that he has to prove to himself and learn more about life and what he is looking for before he can go back to his parents after the argument they had.

One day, he helps a man catch a fish in the river, the man turns out to be the popular fishing writer Dutch Hines (played by William Devane, “24”, “Knots Landing”, “Payback”) who feels that Gus is one of the best flying fish experts in Portland and needless to say, many are inspired by the story and go to get lessons or bait from Gus.

Meanwhile, it also gives him the opportunity to meet and talk with Eddy, the girl he had fallen for.

Will Gus discover what he wants in life and is fishing all he needs?


“The River Why” is presented i 1080p High Definition widescreen (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  For the most part, “The River Why” definitely showcases the beauty of shooting in a river location and seeing the beautiful surroundings of its natural scenery.  During outdoor moments, when the light is good, the picture quality is very good.  You can see the detail and scales or spots on the fish and if anything, the natural location looks very good on Blu-ray.

There are some darker moments during the film, in fact, one conversation scene when Gus meets a guy named Titus, you expect to see some lighting on the two characters but I guess the film was capturing the realness as there are no street lights near the river and things are going to be very dark inside the car.  So, I understand capturing that realism, but at the same time, for a film, that scene was just too dark that I found myself trying to adjust the brightness to see if it was my television or if it was intentional.

But for the most part, picture quality is very good for the film.  I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding, edge enhancement or anything.  And during those darker moments, black levels were nice and deep.


“The River Why” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  While the film is more dialogue-driven through the center and front channels, you do get a bit of music via acoustic guitar coming through the surround channels.  In fact, there are some scenes where the river (and the bickering of Gus’ parents) are quite effective when it comes through those surround channels.  I was expecting crickets or birds chirping a lot but for the most part, dialogue is crystal clear, as with the music of the film.  But for a film like this, the lossless soundtrack was quite appropriate. !

Subtitles are presented in English SDH and Spanish.


“The River Why” comes with the following special feature:

  • Interviews – (38:58) Featuring interviews with the main talent of the film and also producers Thomas A. Cohen and Kristi Denton Cohen and also director Matthew Leutwyler.
  • Trailer – Featuring the original theatrical trailer for the film.

“The River Why” is an intriguing coming-of-age film.  One of the key differences that this film has over other films is that it deals with fishing.

You don’t really run across many films that deal with fishing, especially a life that revolves around it, but “The River Why” is a film that embodies ones passion for fishing, may it be for sport or just one’s love of nature or living in nature.

The film is nothing negative as it deals with one man’s perspective of life.  Gus grew up in a family that thrived on fishing and it has become a big part of the family’s life. So, naturally, Gus is the same way.  He loves fishing, he feels that his success of catching fish is because he understands them.

It’s a life that he has embraced but being a young man, is it all he needs in life?  Of course, when he falls for the beautiful Eddy and seeing a woman that enjoys nature as much as he does, his perspective towards life starts to change a bit as he starts to see how much he misses family and how fishing may not be everything as he once thought.

“The River Why” is a journey of self-discovery and while I have never read the book, I have read that because of the internal monologue of the book through the character of Gus, you’re not going to have everything in the book featured in the film.  That is a given as this tends to happen to a lot of film adaptations from a novel.  In the special feature and also in the film, the word “philosophical” is used quite a bit. And I can imagine that David James Duncan’s novel does a lot in touching upon the philosophy of one’s coming-of-age with one living near the River Why and fishing every day and night.

I can only go by what I see in the film and for me, I feel that Zach Gilford is a really good up-and-coming actor who showed a lot of that hometown style of acting through the TV series “Friday Night Lights” and Amber Heard definitely showed her hometown style compared to her previous roles in “Zombieland” and “Drive Angry”. If anything, both talents were able to adapt to their surroundings and made their characters quite believable.  While the film has two solid talents with William Hurt and Kathleen Quinlan, their roles were quite smaller than one may have hoped.

If anything, this film is pretty much about Gus and him learning through living alone along the river and the people he encounters, primarily Titus (played by Dallas Roberts) and him falling for Eddy.  While the film is a coming-of-age film, I don’t know how much of the book touches upon the love story between Gus and Eddy but while I have heard the book is quite deep, possibly the film adaptation was made more accessible to viewers.

The Blu-ray really does showcase the beautiful wilderness of Oregon and while my fishing years were mainly back when I was a child and going often with my grandfather, I have to admit that watching this film made me want to try fishing in a river.  In fact, I found the film to beautiful and while not the deepest coming-of-age film out there, I felt it was charming and also pretty cool!  And also got me interested in wanting to read Duncan’s novel.

Overall, “The River Why” was an enjoyable, heartwarming film that takes a subject of fishing and definitely makes it appealing to the viewer.  As a coming-of-age film, I felt the casting of Zach Gilford and Amber Heard were very good choices and for the most part, I enjoyed this film and its journey of self-discovery quite a bit.

“The River Why” is a film that looks beautiful on Blu-ray and a film that is entertaining and worth recommending!

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