Once in a while, I do enjoy Gus Van Sant, who, for me, is a lot like Steven Soderbergh: really versatile, talented, and definitely important. This movie has been on my list of films to see since I first wrote it over five years ago. Yes, I'm serious. I'm not sure why it took me so long to finally see it, but I'm glad I finally did.
Allegedly this is supposed to be loosely based on the Shakespeare works Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V, but I didn't really see that. Of course, it would probably help if I was actually familiar with those works, but still. Okay, so sometimes the dialogue does come off as somewhat Shakespearean because of the delivery, but I really don't see the whole thing of translating historical dramas into a dream-like road movie about two hustlers.
We mostly follow Mike Waters, a sensitive young street hustler with narcolepsy. He works the streets of Portland and Seattle, but longs to find his mother who abandoned him at a young age. His search leads him to all kinds of places, namely Idaho (where he's originally from), but overseas as well. Joining him on his quest for "home" is Scott Favor the unrequited love interest. Scott, like Mike, is a hustler, but he's from a more well-to-do background. In fact, he's the wayward son of Portland's mayor. He says he'll eventually straighten up and do as his father wishes, but for the time being, he's happy being on the mean streets with all kinds of colorful characters.
The film was a rather big deal when it came out, and I can see why. It sheds light on an interesting subculture, it's got some mostly strong direction, great visuals, it continued Van Sant's wave of success, and featured some terrific performances from River Phoenix as Mike and, yes, shockingly enough, Keanu Reeves as Scott. I don't know what happened to him that caused him to be how he is now, but yeah, back in the day, he was actually a credible and legitimately good performer. Other performers are good too, but these guys are the real highlight.
Even though this is a good movie, and I can see why it has a very positive reputation, it's not perfect. It's merely good, instead of great, hasn't really aged that well, doesn't seem that fresh anymore, and has a tendency to meander a little too much a little too often. It does provide a nice and sensible look at Gen X hustlers, but even then it comes off as a tad pretentious here and there.
Despite my gripes, I do like this, I'm glad I finally saw it, and think you should check it out if you enjoy the offbeat, or want to really get into the career of Van Sant.