The Film: Filching Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight, Idaho centers on two street hustlers: Mike Waters (River Phoenix), a narcoleptic haunted by dreams of his mother, and Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the prodigal son of Portland’s mayor. The translation works well and gives street life in Portland a poignancy a more conventional approach would not.
The Signifcance: Several aspects make Idaho a Van Sant classic. First, the innovatory visual style—lyrical yet rough-hewn—is amazingly rich in meaning while remaining light, playful and beautiful. Second, River Phoenix’s performance is masterful (how tragic that he’s not around to inherit the master thespian mantle of the Brando/DeNiro/Pacino/Penn lineage); William Richert as the Falstaffan Bob also holds court in a powerful, unrestrained performance. Finally, the graceful dialog—with its flourishes of iambic pentameter (though occasionally stilted by Keanu’s delivery)—combines with the visuals to give the film an inimitable flavor.
The Features: This two-DVD set is deliciously extravagant, even by Criterion standards. The box, the 64-page booklet and the transfer are a feast to behold. Also with interviews, commentary and more