… one of which I will never practice – fly fishing - since there are far too many beautiful passions available than time left in this life.
For decades I considered fishing to be BORING, a la Tom Sawyer, sitting under a tree, with a string attached to a worm at one end and a bamboo pole at the other. I had a friend who lived in northern Minnesota who commenced my education into the skill and art of fishing. He was the one who gave me Russell Chatham’s book, “Dark Water,” which provided much additional instruction. A bit more than a decade ago I read Norman Maclean’s eponymous masterpiece, upon which this movie is based. I rated it a solid 5-stars.
Robert Redford directed the movie adaptation of Maclean’s book, which he released in 1992. Craig Sheffer so-often has an admirably perplexed look on his face, as he plays Norman, confronting the dilemmas of life. Brad Pitt plays his younger brother, Paul, who would stay in Montana and become a newspaper reporter. (Norman would go to Dartmouth for six years in the 1920’s, before commencing his career as an English professor at the University of Chicago.) I love Tom Skerritt, always associating him with his role as the sheriff in the TV series, “Picket Fences,” though of course he has played many other admirable roles. In this movie he plays the stern Presbyterian minister father, who taught his sons the “religion” of fly fishing. He also instructed the youthful Norman to make his stories shorter.
“America as it used to be,” was once the tagline for the Idaho Department of Tourism. The book and movie are set in Missoula, Montana, near the border with Idaho and the Bitterroot Mountains. In the movie a similar sentiment is expressed by the youthful Maclean: “…the Montana of my youth was a world with the dew still on it.” (Note: the credits indicate that the movie was filmed further east in Montana, in Bozeman and Livingston, both of which could provide mountains in the background.) Maclean was born in 1902. Redford did an impressive job of assembling black and white photographs from the period, and then going forward through 1917, when all the able-bodied lumberjacks went off to fight in The Great War, which facilitated Norman’s hiring by the Forest Service at the age of 16.
It is not all paradise. To Redford’s credit, he shows the underbelly of frontier life: the drinking, gambling, whoring, and bigotry against Indians. Though it is revealed early in the book, Redford delays to the end the murder of Norman’s younger brother, Paul, who allowed himself to be sucked into the bad influences of that underbelly.
The real star of the movie is the beauty of the land itself, coupled with that ever-so-graceful ability to place the fishing line exactly where you want it. (How many takes were required, I often wondered?) Though I will never flyfish, I do have a strong passion for being able to experience a few days camping in the Bitterroots. This movie was another hard push. 5-stars.