Aug 3, 2022
Cody Kearsley, Lexi Redman, Steven Roberts, Primo Allon, Sunee Dhaliwal, Aaron Pearl, Melanie Rose Wilson
Out on Apple TV, filmmaker Rob Willey’s feature film River Road is a gritty and enthralling love story about a successful musician and songwriter called Travis (Cody Kearsley) whose life is changed when he meets the suspiciously free-spirited Zoe (Lexi Redman) and the two embark on a chaotic and increasingly volatile journey through drug use and the criminal underworld.
Having just returned from a music tour, Travis is looking to chill in his relaxed home by the water - on River Road - and avoid all the shenanigans that come from being on the road as a handsome guitarist in a successful band (queue the montage of partying, cubicle oral sex, and sweaty gigs).
When he rocks up to write some meaningful song lyrics whilst overlooking the gorgeous view of the river, he bumps into Zoe and the two immediately have chemistry. This chemistry, somewhat ironically, turns into heroin use and the pair quickly find themselves on the slippery slope of dependency, that in turn leads them to petty crime and soon they are engulfed by a deplorable world of baddies with little hope for escape.
With what seems like a fairly familiar story, Willey manages to deliver something heartfelt and compelling that is glued together by the central romance. The connection between these two characters is palpable, leaving the viewer in no doubt of their pulsing emotions for each other, which is cemented by two excellent performances by Cody Kearsley and Lexi Redman. The juxtaposing themes of romance, crime, action all work well together and Willey seems adept at ensuring this gritty piece always feels appealing.
There were two elements which didn’t work for me, firstly, the use of past-tense storytelling. As an audience we are quickly aware that Travis is telling this story to someone - this removes a lot of the threat from the storyline which includes plenty of life-threatening situations. Secondly, the minor elements of comedy - told largely through a larger-than-life “dodgy” character who Travis turns to for a section in the film really didn’t land for me. There was a whole section about what women say in bed these days that I couldn’t believe made the final cut.
That being said, River Road has so much appeal as an engaging, thrilling film that these minor criticisms are quickly forgotten, especially when you factor in the stylish filmmaking (drone shots, car chases etc) and excellent score.
Films about drug dependency can often be inherently emotive (Beautiful Boy, A Street Cat Named Bob) and with River Road, Willey is intelligent in his use of this as a device, coupling it with enough sincere romance that the audience is never overburdened with the soul-robbing substance-abuse scenes. Instead, we get a subtle blend of dramatic themes and intriguing plot lines that veer into other genres smartly, keeping the audience on their toes and engaged throughout.
Watch the official River Road trailer here.