Plot – Two best friends living on the streets of Portland as hustlers embark on a journey of self-discovery and find their relationship stumbling along the way – My Own Private Idaho
Director – Gus Van Sant
Starring – River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo
Genre – Drama
Released – 1991
If you liked: Stand By Me, Dazed and Confused, True Romance
Directed most effectively by Gus Van Sant and loosely based on the works of William Shakespeare. namely, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V, My Own Private Idaho is a difficult, yet utterly absorbing watch. Taking a hard-hitting look at two best friends making ends meet on the streets of Portland as hustlers, who embark on a journey of self-discovery as they make travel the country in search of lost family.
Human tragedy is a central theme of this film, with both central protagonists haunted by their childhood trauma, leading both to become damaged and angry individuals, finding solace in each other’s friendship and while their trip back to Idaho helped both escape having to see their bodies to make money, their friendship sadly declines as both learn more about the motivations of the other. It’s heartbreaking, resulting in an unsettling story of two lost souls struggling to find a better life and overcome a lifetime of struggles.
This is a terrific piece of cinema from Gus Van Sant, although it’s not without its flaws, the biggest of which being the subdued pacing that caused parts of the movie to feel needlessly long, while other parts could have done with more screen time felt overly condensed. Other than that, the maverick filmmaker did a great job of crafting a bleak world filled with stunning cinematography and interesting characters.
Performance-wise: both the Late/Great River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves deliver skilful performances. Phoenix, especially, delivers a touching performance as a troubled soul. Fully embodying the part and making his untimely death even more disheartening. Likewise, Reeves is a revelation in a slightly less complex though just as interesting role, reminiscent of one played by Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation. A Special Mention for William Richert. He’s fantastic in a spirited supporting role.
Made with a poetic sensibility in presenting beautifully that leaves you feeling sad watching Phoenix at the height of his talent. My Own Private Idaho wasn’t the film that I expected, it was a lot stranger than what I was looking for, but one that is well worth repeat viewings.