Gus Van Sant searched for and found a new vocabulary in this utterly seminal, decade-defining punk of a movie, as restless, densely inhabited, and full of half-cocked brilliance as a tweak house in springtime. The ostensible subject at hand is Seattle street hustlers, but what results is a magical mystery tour of deadpan élan, Shakespearean pastiche and post-teen ardor for living below the radar. Fourteen years later, there is much to consider: the Henry V quasi-re-creations, the suddenly mysterious sine qua non of Keanu Reeves, the Falstaffian wonder of screenwriter William Richert (brought on board, it is said, by River Phoenix after A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon was birthed from Richert’s novel), Van Sant’s magnificent rediscovery of the Northwestern landscape, and most of all, River Phoenix. As a comically weary, narcoleptic nowhere guy constantly awakening in strange places, Phoenix was his generation’s great short-lived cultural axiom, wary and spontaneous and so submerged in his movie life there’s no sense he even knew we were watching. Criterion supplements this canon bruiser with audio stuff by Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Rain Phoenix, and producer Laurie Parker, a new doc interviewing cast and crew, outtakes, trailers, and as they say, much more.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2005