Wash Me in the River is a good “bad movie”

Wash Me in the River is a good “bad movie”

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The revenge movie Wash Me in the River took a long – although not particularly troubled – path towards distribution: here it has been on Prime Video since December 28 (it debuted earlier this month in the United States), after filming concluded in early 2021. Action set during a sultry summer in a remote town near Columbus, Ohio, owes its title Italian (the original one is the equally biblical Savage Salvation ) to the practice of baptism in river waters. Not that there was much choice, given that Shelby (Jack Huston) and Ruby (Willa Fitzgerald), a very much in love couple of young (so to speak, the first is forty years old) toxic lovers are buried in the most isolated hinterland, in due distance from lakes, oceans and any natural element of boundless America that grants some worldliness.

Even the town where they live is - by the same definition of its inhabitants - a place abandoned by God that is slowly dying where "there are no children playing in the street". Every day, Sheriff Church (Robert De Niro) finds a young man who has died of an overdose. Even Shelby, a former war veteran, dragged his partner Ruby Red into the tunnel of heroin addiction. When the couple's recovery efforts pay off and they prepare to marry, a tragedy transforms Shelby into a raging, vengeful man, allowing Wash Me in the River to transform itself from a Southern social drama into a revenge film. Always one step behind, on his trail, is Church, determined to save his son's former teammate nicknamed Mustang from damnation, because he is restless and unable to stop like a mad horse.

Wash Me in the River , it is evident from both titles with which it is distributed – it is a reflection on salvation and on how God himself can grant his blessing to those who seek redemption by eradicating wicked from the world. It is a questionable belief in a film permeated by religious instances: starting from the name of Sheriff Church haunted by remorse for the death of a loved one, passing through Ruby Red who approaches the local church of which her mother is a fervent frequenter to obtain baptism and a wedding in white, advancing with Peter (John Malkovich), a local entrepreneur convinced that it was the Lord who showed him the way to keep his family in comfort by plundering others, up to Shelby, convinced that perpetrating a massacre of villains will guarantee him a place in heaven. This reflection is supported by a simple narrative and an action system that suddenly diverts the cursed romance tone towards revenge films in which the outcast with a dark past is transformed into Rambo.

The indestructible Shelby is a relentless war machine, a James Dean on a motorcycle, jeans and a white T-shirt with the likeness of Jack Huston . We've always had a soft spot for this nepo baby (grandfather was director John Huston) who for years proved himself a mediocre actor only to blow our minds away with his phenomenal performance as disfigured war veteran Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire. His performance in Wash Me in the River isn't quite as memorable, but as an action hero he gets by, wielding an arsenal of increasingly bulky and powerful handguns and rifles as if he were parading on the National Rifle Association of America catwalk. He has to deal with De Niro and Malkovich, who play around in their respective roles. The last one, in particular, with two scenes shot in less than a week, effortlessly flaunts its usual slimy and sibylline charm, just as slimy and sibylline is the voice recorded on the answering machine which at a crucial point in the film Shelby (and also you, if you listen in the original language) recognizes.

With Wash Me in the River, Huston is a candidate for heir to the forgotten heroes of 90's straight-to-video action at Marc Dacascos. The film boasts characters that are little more than sketchy, lots of brutal and heinous action, a cast where the only two actors who don't commit themselves are those for whom the film is approached and a camped-out social denunciation of drug addiction: they are all Randall Emmett's pretext and screenwriters Adam Taylor Barker and Chris Sivertson to corroborate the above thesis on the goodness of the saving value of revenge. Still, its 90s blockbuster charm, lazy country soundtrack, and Narcos-esque retaliation between gangsters with machine guns set in rural Ohio make it a good “bad movie.”

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