What If? - The River Phoenix Edition

River Phoenix

Steve Taylor-Bryant imagines what the film world might have been like if River Phoenix had lived and taken on roles made famous by others. What If?...

Growing up I wanted to be a rock star - racing driver - actor, although being a drummer and a liar aren't apparently the relevant qualifications. I wanted to be Tom Cruise for a while, I still dream of being Johnny Depp, but most of all I wanted to be River Phoenix. I was 11 when Stand By Me was released and it's still a favourite of mine now as is a sublime film called My Own My Private Idaho which none of my friends seemed to like or get which made me feel special at the time, add in The Mosquito Coast and Sneakers for good measure. Then came his small but wonderful portrayal of the young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and finally my favourites star was rising! The Thing Called Love was brilliant and I was preparing for the world domination that was to come but alas a star that shone so bright was extinguished as his personal demons led to a drug overdose and the world lost a true talent at age just 23. Just 23 and already an Oscar nominee for Running on Empty, should have had Oscar nods for Idaho as well, and there would have been more in his future I'm sure. Often as I sit and therapeutically look back at my own life and keep my own demons from taking over I look at the world and wonder 'what if?' What if River had been cured of the terrible illness that consumed him? What if he was still working today?

I'm not a good enough judge of his talent or his mind to predict the path he may have taken. He may very well have done something similar to his brother JoaquĆ­n and shunned the big studio blockbusters for more arty and individual films, he may have done like his friend Keanu Reeves and mixed the two quite successfully, or somehow made quirky an 'A' list thing like Johnny Depp has. All I can do is look back on films and wonder which would have been just as good if not better than the originals if you remove one cast member and insert River Phoenix. So here's 10 brilliant films that fit that criteria in my humble opinion.

River Phoenix

Dogma - Azrael

I loved Dogma. It's up there as a favourite comedy with Death to Smoochy and, whilst I loved Jason Lee in Chasing Amy and his appearances in other ViewAskew films, I didn't quite buy him in Dogma. Not sure why I just didn't. River's piercing gaze and comedic timing would lead to Azrael bringing a bit more to the film.

Inception - Cobb

Leonardo DiCaprio was brilliant as Cobb and Inception was a hell of film that doesn't really need changing. However I'd love to see what a Christopher Nolan directed River performance would be like and so there is no other reason than just my curiosity to blame for picking this role.

American Psycho - Patrick Bateman

Oh American Psycho was so good and my first look at Christian Bale if memory serves. The insanity is spot on and I'd really like to know what an insane River looks like. Plus I came across River Phoenix the boy in the 1980's and with the 80's soundtrack it would be a twisted way of going full circle.

The Brothers Grimm - Will Grimm

I liked The Brothers Grimm as a Hollywood fantasy film but not necessarily as a Terry Gilliam film due to how tied his hands were by those evil Weinsteins. One Weinstein issue was not putting a prosthetic on Matt Damon that leaves him looking too clean cut. Now River was also a good looking chap but had an ability to act with his face that seems to elude Damon so I could see River making Will Grimm fit the project better. Add in it would mean Phoenix AND Ledger in a Terry Gilliam film!

Brokeback Mountain - Ennis Del Mar

Replacing Heath Ledger this time and another chance to show his Oscar potential in a film I genuinely believe he'd have been interested in doing if he was still with us. It's also about a chance to play out his own, albeit different, demons (having fully recovered obviously) on screen. Ennis is the character that would allow him to explore dealing with conflict, resolution and the consequences of your actions.

The Devil's Advocate - Kevin Lomax

This was such a great film. A pretty clever story that mixed horror with the bible and threw in some John Grisham for good measure and allowed Al Pacino to play, well, Al Pacino. I liked Keanu in his role of Lomax but can't resist the thought of his best friend getting the chance to face off against Pacino's Devil.

The Rum Diary - Kemp

Basically a fictional take on the life of Hunter S. Thompson and a very underrated performance by Johnny Depp who was more Hunter than Captain Jack. I can see a lot of performances in my mind that Phoenix would have been able to do and a lot of them would be Depp like projects. I wonder if the timing of The Rum Diary at the height of Depp fever harmed viewing figures of a fantastic little film and maybe a River type star would have brought it more to fore.

From Hell - Inspector Frederick Abberline

As I said with The Rum Diary I can see River in a lot of Johnny's roles and From Hell would give River a costume drama to really get his teeth into as well as a fantastic character to portray. I think River would have taken the direction of The Hughes Brothers well and toned down the Deppness without taking away from Abberline.

Brothers - Tommy Cahill

Another great film that should have got more awards than it did. Tobey Maguire was rightly lauded for his portrayal of Captain Sam Cahill and whilst, ordinarily, I'm huge fan of his co-star, Jake Gyllenhaal, I think a different style of intensity was needed for Tommy.

Constantine - John Constantine

Because everyone has to be a comic book hero in Hollywood (yes I am aware that From Hell was a comic adaptation but you know what I mean) and unfortunately for Keanu his version of John Constantine was slated in some corners. I'm not as precious about comic books as some and didn't care he looked different I just loved the film. River would have performed as well if not better and actually would have looked the part so the Internet would have had to shut up! Because you've got to have goals...

Image - IMDb.