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3 Underrated River Phoenix Performances You Need to Revisit

It’s staggering to think it’s been twenty years since River Phoenix’s untimely passing. In commemoration, here are three of the actor’s most memorable on-screen roles you may have missed.

Twenty years later, Hollywood is still mourning the loss of River Phoenix, the promising young actor who died at the tender age of 23 from a drug overdose. In his short life, Phoenix worked with the likes of Harrison Ford, Robert Redford, Sidney Poiter, Sam Shepard, Gus Van Sant, and Richard Harris and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Danny Pope in Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty.

Even though Phoenix appeared in only 15 movies, this limited body of work displays his incredible versatility. While his most well known films include Running on Empty, Stand by Me, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and My Own Private Idaho, there are other standout performances from Phoenix’s filmography that should not be overlooked.The Mosquito Coast

Once I had believed in father, and the world had seemed small, and old. Now he was gone, and I wasn't afraid to love him any more. And the world seemed limitless.

The Mosquito Coast is one of those movies that for whatever reasons just fell through the cracks. Directed by Peter Weir and written by Paul Schrader, the film’s failure at the box office was blamed on Harrison Ford’s over the top (though, I prefer impassioned) performance as Allie Fox, a fledging inventor who, sick of American greed and bloat, moves his family to Belize on the Mosquito coast. Phoenix plays Allie’s eldest son, Charlie, who serves as the film’s narrator, and shows incredible maturity as an actor. Charlie watches Allie move from eccentric idealist to crazed zealot, and he ultimately must oppose his father to save his family.Dogfight

I don’t apologize ever, but I came back here to take you to dinner and try to make things up to you.

The fact that Dogfight isn’t considered one of the best romantic dramas of all times is just beyond me. Phoenix plays Eddie Birdlace, a hot-tempered but sensitive marine on his way to Vietnam in 1963. On their last night in the states, Eddie and his two friends decide to attend a “dogfight,” a cruel contest in which the prize is given to the man with the ugliest date. When Eddie happens upon Rose (Lili Taylor), a plain, sweet waitress who aspires to be a folk singer, he takes her by default to the “dogfight” and immediately regrets this decision. Phoenix and Taylor make Eddie and Rose’s romance tender and poignant instead of forced and desperate, and the role of Eddie engenders one of the actor’s most accomplished performances.
The Thing Called Love

Look out Music City, cause here I am and I ain't never leavin'!

The Thing Called Love, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, is the last film River Phoenix completed before his death. Though his performance is obviously impaired by his own inner demons, Phoenix is compelling, and even charming as James Wright, a hot-blood and aloof country singer/songwriter, who falls for Miranda Priestly (Samantha Mathis), a newcomer on the Nashville scene.  Their tumultuous relationship conveys the inevitable trials and travails of show business marriages. As a bonus, Phoenix, a true music lover, performed all the music in the film and wrote one of his character’s signature songs, “Lone Star State of Mind.” Even at his personal nadir, Phoenix is still managed to captivate. 



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