Montana, 1910. Norman and his younger brother Paul grow up under the watchful eye of their father (the ever-wonderful Skerritt), a Presbyterian minister of Scots descent. Mornings are spent studying, afternoons devoted to fly-fishing in the nearby river, a quasi-mystical pastime which serves as the film's central metaphor: while they cast their lines and wait, the boys learn the importance of grace, harmony and patience. At home, however, the family's inability to express emotions hints at trouble to come; and so while nice-guy Norman (Sheffer) matures and dates good-girl Jessie (Lloyd), reckless Paul (Pitt) turns to gambling and liquor. Redford (who reads passages from Norman Maclean's source novella in voice-over) explores the brothers' changing relationship with intelligence and restraint; however, because events are filtered through the author's fictional persona, certain sequences involving Paul lack his much-needed perspective. Humour brings things back to earth, and saves the film from becoming over-earnest. Leave your preconceptions about fishing at the door: you'll be caught hook, line and sinker.
Cast and crew