Having seen a couple of River Phoenix films over the years, for some reason I have never got round to watching My Own Private Idaho. This is strange as I am quite a fan of his co-star, Keanu Reeves. Reeves can at times criticised for some wooden performances (Dracula, anyone?) but when he is on screen with a capable actor he can more then hold his own. Director, Gus Van Sant is one director who I think is a brave and very capable film-maker. Anyone who has the guts to remake Psycho scene by scene is one brave guy. He has produced other films of merit such as Good Will Hunting and the recent Elephant. My Own Private Idaho is possibly among critics, his crowning achievement, but what did I think.....
Mike (River Phoenix) is a male prostitute on the streets of Seattle. Searching for his Mother, he leads a pathetic existence living on the edge and walking the streets for his next 'date'. He also suffers from narcolepsy, which to those you don't know is a sleeping disorder. This was used to great comic effect in Deuce Bigelow for those who want a mental picture of the condition. After getting picked up one evening by a woman who likes 'three at a time, to get warmed up' he strikes a friendship with Scott, a local hustler played completely against type by Keanu Reeves. Scott is the son of the mayor and takes it upon himself to 'hustle' on the streets. He has a life to go back to but Mike is troubled by childhood memories and to say he has an awful life is an understatement. The film follows their lives, through the hardship the world brings them....
When discussing the film with a colleague at work, she informed me that the film has been loosely based around Shakespeare's work. There was also she said a few references to his work in the film. Having very little knowledge, if none, of the Bard, I did some research into the film and apparently the film is loosely based on, I believe either Henry IV or V. Please accept my apologies, fans of Shakespeare and the film, if this is way off but I can only write what I find.
Anyway back to the film, Van Sant given a fairly low budget produces what I feel is quite a stunning looking film. The beginning scene of the countryside is stunning but yet it produces a haunted feel for Mike as he is alone on the road. The street scenes give me the same sort of impression as the original Death Wish, a seedy look but yet exciting. Maybe it's me, but I do like to see street scenes in films based on the down side of life as it gives it a 'rough' edge. For what is essentially quite a tragic film, there are speckles or two of dark humour throughout. These are subtle and may be missed by the average viewer. As mentioned in my review of Stand By Me, River Phoenix was an exceptional talent and I feel he would have been 'up there' today with the very crème de la crème of the film world's very top thespians. It's a shame his own life had such tragic circumstances. The subject matter of 'hustling' and the seedier side of life may not appeal to most. I found some of the scenes in the film a little distasteful because of the subject matter. However, this doesn't take away from the fact that this is an extremely well made film. Not entertaining as such, but a good film never the less.
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