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Heartland Film Festival: ‘River Runs Red’ ★★★

by on October 11, 2018
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By Bob Bloom

“River Runs Red” begins as a promising story about justice. Then it slowly morphs into revenge-melodrama mode, basically obliterating all that came before it.

Which is too bad, because the movie, written and directed by Wes Miller, offers some compelling arguments.

The movie has significance in this time of #BlackLivesMatter as it centers on the fatal shooting during a traffic stop of an unarmed young black man, CJ, by two sheriff’s deputies.

It turns out the young man is the son of a judge — and his mother is a police officer.

The deputies try to cover up their mistake by planting a gun by the young man’s body at the scene.

Miller’s mistake is that he stacks the deck against the Hon. Judge Charles Coleman (Taye Diggs) by presenting simplistic situations and one-dimensional characters, who frustrate Coleman’s search for, not only the truth, but his legal attempts to hold the deputies accountable.

Miller questions the fairness of the judicial system but offers no viable answers.

It doesn’t help that one of the deputies is portrayed as a trigger-happy racist and that the city’s mayor is shown as a glad-handing political opportunist, more interested in avoiding a scandal than in seeking the facts.

Also hurting Miller’s story is the revelation that the veteran racist deputy has a history of deadly confrontations with minorities.

It would have better served the movie if the officers were allowed to show come contrition or remorse, instead of immediately altering the facts to protect themselves from the consequences of their mistake.

Where “River Runs Red” is most touching are the scenes after the shooting, in which Coleman and his wife, Eve (Jennifer Tao), experience the grief and pain that has become too familiar these days for many parents — and families.

Coleman shuts off the television after hearing that #BlackLivesMatter activists are protesting the shooting.

When Eve asks why, he tells her, “CJ is not a cause; he’s our son.”

The movie takes a dark turn into retribution when the frustrated Coleman meets Javier (George Lopez), whose son also was shot by the same officers.

It would be too much of a spoiler to reveal anymore. Let’s just say that the soft-spoken judge whose faith in the law was absolute, and the garage owner-mechanic who buries his sorrow in his work, take drastic action that is totally out of character and preposterous.

Wasted in all this is John Cusack, who plays a police detective friend of Coleman. He feeds the judge some information about the shooters but for the most part, simply stands around and takes no action.

“River Runs Red” is one of those could-have-been movies — a serious examination of a complex law enforcement-societal issue with no easy remedies.

Instead, it takes the path of least cinematic resistance, undermining its shouts of moral outrage into sensationalistic whispers.

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

The Heartland Film Festival takes place from Oct. 11 to Oct. 21. For a complete schedule and venues, go to


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