Stand By Me (1986 with Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix)


USA / 1986

Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Raymond Gideon, Bruce A Evans, from the novella The Body by Stephen King

Cast: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland

A writer (Richard Dreyfuss) recalls how, as a 12-year-old, he (Wil Wheaton) and three friends (River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell) set out into deepest Oregon to try to find the body of a missing teenager. He and Phoenix have to run for their lives when caught on a railway bridge by an approaching train. The boys swap stories and get themselves covered by leeches when they wade through water, then are confronted by local bully Kiefer Sutherland.

The Oscar-nominated screenplay simplifies Stephen King’s original story and the dropping of King’s title indicates director Rob Reiner’s shrewdness in drenching the track with late fifties pop: indeed Ben E King’s magisterial recording of the song that gave the movie its title had a revival even bigger than its original impact in 1961 (actually two years after the film is set). The film does work like a charm, though. There are those who protest that the boys’ banter, which is enough to make a sailor blush, is too ripe for the period but that is surely wishful thinking and a rewrite of history.

A great deal of the movie’s confident progress is down to the conviction of the boys’ acting and the way the dynamic develops between them. Seen now, in the knowledge of the tragedy that befell Phoenix, the movie takes on a plangent dimension. Wheaton has gone on to regular work in television and theatre and Sutherland, of course, has had a fitfully starry film and TV career, not dissimiliar from that of his father Donald.