It could be construed from River Phoenix’s untimely death in 1993 that he was full of warring, unmanageable impulses, and his performance in the Director’s Cut of The Thing Called Love, one of his last films, about Gen-Xers seeking C&W fame in Nashville, would seem to bear that out. Mathis, Sandra Bullock, and Dermot Mulroney conform to the yeasty script by falling off horses and yelling from tops of buildings, while Phoenix’s turn as a swaggering warbler with an unreachable heart is mesmerizing, though undercut by moments when he seems to be struggling to keep his eyes open.
The EXTRAS are full of hints about Phoenix’s mercurial nature. Mulroney says it was ”impossible to take your eyes off” him; Mathis agrees, gushing that Phoenix was ”the greatest actor of my generation,” but she admits that ”he scared the hell out of me sometimes, too.” Costume designer Rita Riggs waxes rhapsodic about his ”moody cult quality,” and Phoenix’s delivery in interviews is halting and downbeat. In his commentary track, director Peter Bogdanovich says his leading man at first seemed like a ”difficult, complicated, contradictory character” but turned out to be ”wonderful to work with” and more ”like Huckleberry Finn.”