Published Jan 06, 2011It's been about five years since the London terror bombings, which was about how long it took the United States to start doling out laborious, preachy fare like World Trade Center and United 93 after 9/11, so the arrival of London River isn't much of a surprise. Although, it's good to know that there's an unspoken period of grief before exploiting expansive human tragedy from atop a soapbox while pleading remembrance.
To be fair, amidst the glib idealism there is much to like about Rachid Bouchareb's examination of prejudice, intolerance and acceptance, starting with the two lead actors: Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyatè.
Blethyn plays Elisabeth, a doddering, "mumsy" type from small-town Guernsey, brought to multi-cultural Finsbury Park area, London, when her daughter fails to return calls following a large subway bombing. Aghast to find her daughter living above a halal shop, thinking the worst of her possible fate, she's less than accommodating when Kouyatè's character, Ousmane (a stoic African expatriate living in France), approaches her with a photo of her daughter and his Muslim son, suggesting they rally their forces to find their missing children.
This relationship, handled mostly with subtle dialogue that avoids undue expository tedium, acts as the fulcrum of the film, detailing Elisabeth's wild assumptions and prejudicial approach to Ousmane, eventually remedied by his kindness and understanding. Both actors dive into their roles with gusto, having a natural chemistry that compensates for an overall lumbering, heavy-handed approach.
Unfortunately, from the moment we witness a scene of Ousmane finding helping hands at a mosque juxtaposed with Elisabeth's lack of success going to the police, we understand the slant and perspective of the film: ignorant white people are bigots and spiritual Africans are full of love. It's a little quaint and self-righteous, as is its being equated to the terror bombings, making it nearly impossible to appreciate anything beyond the performances and restrained histrionics. (Mongrel Media)