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My Own Private Idaho [DVD] 
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River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in director Gus Van Sant’s haunting tale of two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narcoleptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, wayward son of the mayor of Portland and the object of Mike’s desire. Navigating a volatile world of junkies, thieves, and johns, Mike takes Scott on a quest from the grungy streets to the open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called "home." Groundbreaking and visually dazzling, My Own Private Idaho is a stirring look at unrequited love and life at society’s margins.
Mapping the spaces between fortune and degeneracy, Shakespeare and street cant, Europe and the Pacific Northwest, and gay and straight, My Own Private Idaho is the 1991 masterpiece by director Gus Van Sant. River Phoenix gave the most generous and memory-searing performance of his tragically shortened career as Mike Waters, a narcoleptic street hustler in search of his mother. His best friend, Scott, played by Keanu Reeves, is a son of privilege who fosters plans of rejoining the moneyed world of his father after gallivanting with assorted urchins and ne'er-do-wells. The beautifully symmetrical story that emerges between the two is one of friendship, yearning for lost time, and sexual identity conveyed with a poet's eye for landscape. The camera lingers on abandoned houses in golden fields and time-lapse clouds, providing what T.S. Eliot called "the objective correlative", external representations of interior emotional states. We're treated to striking iconic sequences like a barn falling from the sky and still-life scenes of carnal entanglement. The supporting cast is a rogues' gallery that includes Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Udo Kier, director William Richert, and a variety of "non-actors" pulled literally off the street to provide documentary veracity to a film that gleefully careens into riffs on Henry IV. It's beautiful. --Ryan BoudinotSee all Product description
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Phoenix plays Mike; Reeves plays Scott. They are two friends who each embark on a personal journey in order to discover their true 'Self'. The film opens with Mike on a deserted stretch of highway. In Idaho. Along this weird and wonderful road trip they encounter all kinds of people and problems. Mike is poor, Scott is rich. They are best friends. They are street hustlers. They are also both messed up. They sleep with men and women for money, although Scott hardly needs to for he will inherit a fortune.
Part of their journey sees Mike trying to locate his long lost mother, firstly through his older brother (James Russo) and then in Italy. Things get messy towards the end and Mike finds he has come full circle on a lonely stretch of highway. Idaho marked a major turning point in the career of Phoenix, who would have gone on to star in Interview with the Vampire (1994); Reeves did star in a vampire film after Idaho, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). Phoenix had previously been nominated for an Oscar for his role in Running on Empty (1988).
My Own Private Idaho is loosely based on William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V.
Gus Van Sant's direction is impeccable. The glorious landscapes, the grime of the city and some of it's more unsavoury inhabitants, and the characters all add up to a stunning piece of film making. I'm not going to give any spoilers for those who haven't seen it. Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix are both outstanding. But it is River who steals the show, perhaps predictably, but his character is the main protagonist and as such, the story hinges around him. He was a stellar young actor who could have gone on to achieve great things, to have such a sad end is truly heartbreaking. However, even though he was so young, he left some excellent films behind him and this is most certainly one of them.
I watched it 20 years ago (loved it), and i watched the dvd version again recently, and even after all those years this movie still mesmerises me. One aspect of 'My Own Private Idaho" that I thought was interesting was its use of Shakespeare's Henry IV (I think, but i could be wrong), with Keanu Reeves taking the role of the dissolute Prince Hal, who at the end of the film rejects his prostitute friends to emerge like 'the sun, as if from behind clouds' in order to properly inherit his father's kingdom. Reeves cruel rejection obviously destroys the character played by River Phoenix.
Outstanding film! River Phoenix was an extra-ordinary actor. Having watched the campsite scene again in My Own Private Idaho, I noticed Phoenix's body-language, and his improvisation acting skills and intonation, and i realised that he (Phoenix) was one of the greatest actors in the history of motion pictures. And there are certain scenes in Running On Empty in which he steps completely outside the box (to use a contemporary cliche).
Gus Van Sant is supposed to have fallen in love with him. Don't know if that's true or not, but in Van Sants book (available on this site) one character falls in love with another character who plays a rent Boy in a movie.
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My Own Private Idaho is my favourite River Phoenix movie.
A superb movie of tragedy, love and lost.