River Phoenix received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Danny Pope in Running On Empty.
River Phoenix plays the older son of the two radicals who is becoming tired of having to run from place to place changing their names and their lives at every different place they go to. This is not a supporting performance by River Phoenix as the film is all about Danny's growth away from the family, and his want to no longer run. This again tough falls into because the person is too young, as well as playing a young character they are thrown in the supporting category where they do not belong.
River Phoenix who was sort of a James Dean with his sudden death, although with far less of a legacy and impact. I only really make this comparison though really because Phoenix certianly takes a very much James Dean like approach in the part of Danny Pope in this film. Through his performance he stays rather almost strangely quiet just as James Dean did in many key scenes of his films, although unlike James Dean he does this basically throughout his performance and with far less mannerisms. Just like James Dean though he brings attention to himself through his quietude strangely enough.
Phoenix certainly has a screen presence and low key charisma fitting for the role of Danny who charms many people although always stays a mystery to them. Although the audience themselves know the mystery of the character Phoenix creates it in all of his scenes where the other characters do not know it. He shows there is always an extra layer to Danny, that is always apparent although very difficult to pin down exactly in Phoenix's performance just as it should be.
Although Danny leaves a troubled life, and very much wants to get out of it there is never a big scene where he bursts out in complete anger or anything like that. This actually makes perfect sense, and was the right approach for Danny. Danny has always been keeping secrets for his parents therefore purposefully never acts out, and Phoenix shows this history in his performance. Phoenix lets in little moments showing Danny wanted to perhaps say more, but always showing that there is the overriding loyalty to his family that keeps him with his quiet demeanor.
Phoenix gives an effective performance throughout the film that certainly reaches its height at the end of the film when Danny must face the facts about his life with his family. His final scene in particular is well handled by Phoenix conveying both a love for his family, as well as sense of Danny's new found freedom. This is a good performance but I personally cannot quite call it a great one.
Although most certainly fine throughout only his final scene really was moving for me. I do think this could have been even more than it was particularly with his scenes with Martha Plimpton as they could have been more interesting than they were if Phoenix and Plimpton had stronger chemistry. Still this most certianly is a fine performance from Phoenix that creates the portrait of the very particular Danny quite well.