River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves star in this haunting tale from Gus Van Sant, about two young street hustlers: Mike Waters, a sensitive narcoleptic who dreams of the mother who abandoned him, and Scott Favor, the 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 along the grungy streets and open highways of the Pacific Northwest, in search of an elusive place called home. Visually dazzling and thematically groundbreaking, 'My Own Private Idaho' is a deeply moving look at unrequited love and life on society's margins.
Before Gus Van Sant became a household name in 1997 with his directorial effort of 'Good Will Hunting', he secured his name in the late 80s and early 90s with two key films. In 1989, Gus made and released 'Drugstore Cowboy', which hit the indie film scene by storm and still has a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Just one year later in 1990, Gus made and released a little film called 'My Own Private Idaho', which more or less gave birth to a cinema movement called 'New Queer Cinema'.
This movie was so original and different that people everywhere flocked to it and its simple message it so excellently conveyed. Not only that, it starred a young Keanu Reeves and the brilliant River Phoenix, who unfortunately passed away less than two years later at the age of twenty-three. What ultimately brought people to love 'My Own Private Idaho' is the universal theme of the movie, which is that we all just want to be loved by someone and that we are all the same, no matter how much money we make or what we believe. Given the subject matter here, this film surprisingly doesn't offend or try to make a political or societal statement, but instead, tells an all too real story about a couple of people, trying to find a connection or love.
The movie follows Mike Waters (River Phoenix), who is a young drifter with no home or real friends, and makes money as a gay prostitute who has severe narcolepsy. He has no plans for his future, but instead takes each day as it comes. He works in Portland, Oregon and sometimes sleeps in an abandoned motel with other vagrants prostitutes, all led by an older guy named Bob (William Richert), who isn't the nicest of people. While in Portland, Mike meets his only friend in the world who he trusts by the name of Scott (Keanu Reeves), also a male prostitute, but by choice.
Scott isn't like the rest of the street kids he hangs out with, as his father has a ton of money and holds a high political position, but Scott rejects the "masks" all of these social elite people wear and what they stand for, and rebels to live a life that gives him happiness and a sense fullness, which is a male prostitute. On the other hand, Mike feels like his life would have played out differently if his mother hadn't left him all those years ago, leaving him lonely, depressed, and wanting to be loved by anyone, which is why he does what he does.
Mike hears that his mother lives in Idaho and makes a pact with Scott that they will track her down so that Mike can feel whole again. As they head towards Idaho, Mike falls in love with Scott, only to find out that Mike's mother moved to Italy. Scott and Mike head to Italy to find that his mother moved back to the states, but unfortunately Scott has fallen in love with a girl and heads back to the states, leaving Mike alone again, still searching for that connection, whether it be physical or emotional.
Gus added this narcolepsy aspect to the script to give us a sharp edged sword to walk through, where one side is reality and the other is a dreamlike state that Mike only takes part in. He prefers this dream-state, because it's where he sees his mother and therefore feels the love he so desperately wants. It's a fascinating character study that is genuine and tragic all at the same time.
Phoenix does an outstanding job here, which even earned him some acting awards at various festivals, and proves once again, he was one of the best actors to ever be put on screen. His emotion and struggle with his lot in life in the film is simply phenomenal. Keanu also turns in a great performance as well. 'My Own Private Idaho' is one of those films that you will always remember and will stick with you for days after each viewing.
Blu-ray: The Vital Stats
'My Own Private Idaho' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray disc, housed in a gorgeous Criterion cardboard case with hard plastic backs, along with a 60-page booklet with essays and technical information. Everything is cased in a cardboard shell and is Region-A locked. Spine number is 277.
'My Own Private Idaho' comes with an excellent 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. According to the Criterion booklet, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution from the original camera negative where thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed, all of which was approved by director Gus Van Sant. This is a definite upgrade from the prior DVD release. Detail is very sharp and vivid with a great and natural layer of grain that never fluctuates, keeping this image looking filmic, yet striking.
Closeups reveal individual hairs, beads of sweat, wrinkles, and makeup blemishes very well. Wider shots, particularly in the exterior shots, which look beautiful. Colors are bold as well and the image has a somewhat different color tone than the previous release, which gives this image a more realistic look. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are very natural. There were no compression issues to report either, leaving this video presentation with excellent marks from Criterion.
This release comes with both a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 option. Both sound excellent, but if you want the surround sound experience or a fully immersive soundscape, choose the 5.1 option. Both tracks provide an excellent and well-balanced sound that has a lot of depth, but all of the sound effects and ambient noises come through a bit better on the 5.1 track. These noises are key to the dream like state some of the movie is in, and creates that feeling like you are along for this bumpy ride. Each sound effect and ambient noise is well layered and his some great directionality to it.
The score sounds impressive as well, always sounding full and adding to each situation, but never drowning out any dialogue or sound effect. Speaking of the dialogue, it's always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, or high shrills. Don't expect ton of explosions or an action-packed movie here, but rather an engaging character study that hits all of the right notes. The LFE is excellent and the dynamic range is wide, leaving this audio presentation with great marks.
Kings of the Road (HD, 45 Mins.) - This interview is from 2005 and features film historian Paul Arthur who discusses the film, the characters, and the similarities to Shakespeare. Definitely worth watching.
Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes (HD, 54 Mins.) - This interview is also from 2005 and features Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes as the talk about the origins of this film, New Queer Cinema, their actors, the style, and camera techniques.
The Making of 'My Own Private Idaho' (HD, 43 Mins.) - Also from 2005, some of the crew of the film discuss the technical aspects of making the film. They also talk about working with Gus and River. If you love making movies, this extra is for you.
Laurie Parker and Rain Phoenix (HD, 20 Mins.) - River's younger sister and the producer of the movie talk about River, his acting resume, making the film, and more Shakespeare similarities.
JT Leroy and Jonathan Caouette (HD, 54 Mins.) - This is an audio interview with a director and writer who have worked with Gus Van Sant who influenced these filmmaker's projects. These two discuss the film and all of its aspects and what it means to them.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 13 Mins.) - There are six deleted scenes that are unrestored, some without audio that feature some more character development.
Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
Criterion Booklet - Here is a whopping 60-page booklet that features essays by Amy Taubin, JT LeRoy, Lance Loud, Gus Van Sant, River Phoenix, and Keanu Reeves. Also the technical and cast and crew information are included here.
'My Own Private Idaho' is one of those films that you will always think about and remember. The performances from River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves are simply outstanding and the simple message the movie conveys is what we all want in life, without being political or raising societal issues. The upgraded video and audio presentations are both top notch and all of the extras are imported from the Criterion DVD release, with zero new bonus features. Highly Recommended and worth the upgrade.