The Penultimate Mile: Sissy Spacek in The River

(the actual FINAL installment in a quick series counting down from 50 to 26!)

SISSY SPACEK IN THE RIVER (1984)

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The competition (Cliff: 4 for 5):

Sally Field in Places in the Heart

Judy Davis in A Passage to India

Jessica Lange in Country

Vanessa Redgrave in The Bostonians

There’s not too much to be said about Sissy or The River, a gushing paean to the simple American farmer (starring everyone’s favorite red-blooded American, Mad Max).  The film fulsome piling of struggle on top of misfortune on top of hardship, from Mel Gibson auctioning off the family tractor to his taking work as a scab to battling the hostile business practices of the local kingpin with eyes on Sissy, his steadfast wife, drowns out (no pun intended) the occasional heartfelt moment, as well as some impressively large-scale filmmaking of the sort that nobody but Spielberg gets to do these days.

In her fourth nomination, it’s great to see Sissy mature into a fully adult role, and her skillful physical presence (I always remember her glances and expressions more vividly than her delivery of dialogue) plays out beautifully in her most memorable scene.  Pinned down by a gruesome tractor accident while out working the field alone (of course), Sissy tips off nothing to the audience as her character wordlessly, gruntingly defies her daunting situation.  It’s otherwise a trite and limited role, with material that’s hard to elevate into something great, although Sissy hits no sour notes and clocks in a credible performance.  Even in this weakest of years, in which the best anyone in the category gets is one good scene, I’m still inclined to give it to Vanessa Redgrave in The Bostonians for her transformational oratory at the film’s conclusion, but this is at least a serviceable performance to shore up the list of five.

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