River Runs Red

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
River Runs Red Movie Poster Image
Bloody violence, strong language in weak revenge thriller.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 94 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. When an awful crime occurs (actually, two of them), instead of following logic, characters resort to foolish violence. So what may have been intended as indictment of police brutality instead becomes muddled, fatalistic vigilante tale.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No one behaves admirably, no one makes worthy choices. Main character -- who's presumably meant to be seen as positive example since he rose from difficult circumstances to become a judge -- makes worst decisions of all. Cops are crooked, citizens helpless, politicians cruel.


Plenty of revenge-style violence, much of which lacks logic. Frustratingly unrealistic fights go on forever and are sometimes, strangely, played for laughs. Bloody shootings, car crashes, etc. A cop executes a character.


Profanity isn't constant but includes "f--k" and "a--hole."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink to self-medicate, not to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that River Runs Red is a revenge-fueled thriller/drama about the aftermath of an unjust police shooting. In this case, the victim was the son of a cop-turned-judge (Taye Diggs), who enlists the help of his former partner  (John Cusack) to investigate, then turns to a fellow grieving father (George Lopez) to take action when the system doesn't. Expect a fair bit of bloody, vengeance-movie violence, including long fistfights, shoot-outs, car crashes, and even an execution-style killing. There's also some strong language ("f--k," "a--hole") and a bit of drinking. Luke Hemsworth co-stars.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykoba f December 3, 2020

A very strong message badly delivered.

Dear Wes,

I shan't bang you over the head as director and writer as the message within is powerful and needed. I think shaking the tree is the only way w... Continue reading
Adult Written byTommyx2tone May 24, 2019

ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE!! If you have ANY common sense than you will catch and understand extremely quick

This is directly to the person who claims to be ‘iamwesmiller’ you are the one and only reason I created this account. In hopes that you are truly who you say y... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

In RIVER RUNS RED, a young black man is unjustly killed by police on his way to his first day of work (ironically, as a police officer). The cops cover it up. The boy's father, Charles Coleman (Taye Diggs), is a respected judge who enlists Horace (John Cusack), his partner from his days as a cop, to help investigate. When Coleman discovers that the police officers who killed his son (Luke Hemsworth, Gianni Capaldi) have done it before, he enlists Javier (George Lopez), the father of their previous victim, to act when the system doesn't.

Is it any good?

You sense that its heart is in the right place, but this thriller is simply too poorly made to accomplish much of anything. River Runs Red starts promisingly, as if it might be a family drama. Then it takes a hard left turn into its execution-by-cop plot, and no character behaves believably again. A gunshot victim is taken to a garage, and everyone stands around calmly kvetching as he bleeds. Coleman quickly gets all the evidence he needs to prove guilt -- or at least force a serious investigation (and he is a judge) -- but instead, he becomes a "vigilante" in one of the worst-planned home invasions ever. Relationships have no root; couples have no chemistry. In scene after scene, the body language is all wrong, as if no one senses the urgency of the situation.

Writer-director Wes Miller resorts to nail-on-the-head dialogue ("Don't forget your black robe doesn't hide your black skin" ... says Coleman's wife) and hammer-on-the-head symbolism: In the daytime, in his house, Coleman sits in a mysterious room with one side of his face lit red, the other blue -- and then we never see that room again; the bad guy actually wears a nearly black cowboy hat. And Miller throws in some strange musical interludes, including off-puttingly enthusiastic singing by a vocal group during Coleman's son's wake. What seems to be intended as a critique of trigger-happy police and the criminal justice system's tendency to protect them utterly degenerates into nonsensical violence.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the judge's decisions in River Runs Red. Did it make sense to you that he would become a vigilante? Did you think he had exhausted his legal options?

  • How does the violence in this movie compare to what you might see in a superhero action movie? Which has more impact? Why?

  • Do you believe this film adds to the conversation about police brutality in a meaningful way? Why or why not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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