The River Thief is a film that tells the story of Diz (Joel Courtney), a street urchin for as long as he can remember, who was abandoned by his mother and has long since lost touch with his father. Diz is the kind of character one could see as irredeemable, as he steals to survive and has no qualms about it. His solitude and lack of upbringing make him socially maladjusted to say the least. His worldview is challenged when he meets Selah (Raleigh Cain) whom is the first person he he’s longed to be closer to and ingratiate himself to.
N.D. Wilson helms this, his debut feature, in fairly assured manner with missteps few and far between, as he builds a somewhat unconventional tale methodically that manages to surprise without cheating and with a minimum of tonal dissonance. Wilson is a best-selling author whose previous directing experience include book trailers for his own titles, and short films.
There are large portions of the second act where there is a sustained betterment of the film, which is almost entirely unlikely considering some of the hiccups of the first act. This crescendoing leads to a powerful, unexpected climax that fulfills the allegory, message, and meaning that was merely alluded to at the start. Much of the cohesion to be found among at first seemingly ill-fitting tropes and narrative facets is created through the scoring by Eli Beaird and music by Tommy Cash, whose musical aplomb is on display in one of the films more heart-rending scenes; and the rest is tied together by the lovingly sumptuous cinematography of Andy Patch.
Joel Courtney assuredly turns in his best performance since Super 8, due in equal parts to his maturation as an actor, the material, and his rapport with Wilson. Raleigh Crane matches Courtney with a vibrant breakout performance as an average girl equally struggling to understand her enigmatic new admirer and her grandfather’s willingness to forgive and reach out to Diz.
The River Thief is a film that is akin to Diz’s namesake, St. Dismas –the Penitent Thief of the Cross, so named in the Apocrypha- any of its sins either of omission or execution can be forgiven because of the way it ends, its earnestness, and persistence in reaching its final poignant moments. The River Thief has not been rated by the MPAA but I would recommend it for older teens due to certain themes and scenes.
It is available on VOD starting on Friday, October 14 on iTunes and in select theatres.