Directed by Gus Van Sant
Based on plays by William Shakespeare
Screenplay by Gus Van Sant
Starring: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, William Richert, James Russo
Two hustlers, Mike (Phoenix) and Scott (Reeves), go on a series of journeys in search of something profound. As they make new discoveries their relationship pays a price.
This film was written and directed by Gus Van Sant (Elephant). He drew inspiration from the works of William Shakespeare, specifically “Henry IV – Part 1” and “Henry IV – Part 2”. The film stars River Phoenix (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and Keanu Reeves (John Wick). William Richert (The Client) and James Russo (Donnie Brasco) are also featured.
This story is a unique vision of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays. The modern Northwestern setting is accompanied by a unique band of highly flawed characters. Specifically, the characters of Mike and Scott, two male prostitutes, stand out for their many issues. The dialogue is a mix of modern speech, Shakespeare’s own dialogue, and writing done in the Shakespearean style. There is also an element of documentary film styling in this one. The mix of styles come together in a film that has an almost manic pace. The story focuses on Mike (perhaps Poins from the play) and his relationship with Scott. Their relationship leads them into a series of odd, humorous, and sometimes painful encounters. This friendship provides a number of great moments for these two characters and the rest of the cast. This is a highly introspective film that provides more questions than answers. It’s clearly a passion project for Gus Van Sant. The end result is a story that works at times, and falls in others.
The acting in this movie has some good moments. It’s not likely that I’d cast Keanu Reeves in anything remotely related to Shakespeare, but he does good work in this one. His character is somewhat tailored to his range, and he has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. The best connection is between himself and River Phoenix. Phoenix has a sense of sadness that he brings to his role, and it is special to watch. He also seemed to understand the flaws of his character from the very beginning.
William Richert gives an excellent performance in one of the more interesting roles in the film. Patterned after Shakespeare’s Falstaff, the character is uniquely sad and humorous all at once. James Russo is another nice addition to the cast. He helps, along with the rest of the cast, to bring this one to life. It’s a unique version of a classic story that the cast seemed to understand. They do energetic and excellent work throughout the film.
Visually, this movie seems to operate in sync with the tone of the story. There’s a sense of being able to see inside the minds of the characters that adds something different to this one. The movie also uses color and composition to add to the odd feel of this one. The visuals create a sense of the openness of the world of the film and the possibilities within the story. Like the writing, the visuals in this movie don’t follow a formula. The combination of the writing and visuals help to make this one of the most unusual films you’ll see.
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare you should definitely see this one. I would also recommend this one to fans of any of the stars. Fans of Van Sant should also make sure to see this one. Overall, this might not work for everyone due to the inconsistent pace and lack of a solid arc. I give this one 3.7 out of 5 stars.