Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
- Allan Hunter
- 22 October 2018
Gus Van Sant brings an unsubtle approach to the story of real-life quadriplegic alcoholic John Callahan
Director Gus Van Sant has a tendency to make movies that feel like therapy sessions. At some level Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester or Sea Of Trees are all about characters on a journey from pain and suffering to healing and forgiveness. Adapted from the memoirs of the late John Callahan, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot follows a similar template, striving to avoid sentimentality and investing its faith in a typically nuanced, committed performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
Phoenix may be considerably older than Callahan but he conveys a sense of the man's sardonic humour and spiky irreverence. In 1972, Callahan survived a car crash that left him a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. Over the ensuing years, he strove to conquer his alcoholism with the encouragement of his sponsor Donnie (Jonah Hill) and channelled his view of the world into a new career as a cartoonist.
It is a conventional story that unfolds as Callahan follows the 12 Step AA programme towards redemption. Van Sant directs with restraint, trying to capture some of Callahan's playful, edgy character by jumbling up the chronology of his story, but cannot quite escape the inevitability of what is to come.
He has assembled an impressive cast but often has little for them to do. Rooney Mara is especially underemployed as Annu, a saintly Swedish woman who supports Callahan. A slimmed down Jonah Hill is much more striking as the effete, laid-back Donnie, a big-hearted, tough love AA sponsor who encourages Callahan to address a lifetime of heartaches stretching back to the mother who abandoned him as a child.
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot has its comic moments and is modestly touching but, not for the first time, it is the quiet, understated truths in Joaquin Phoenix's work that makes the film worthwhile.
General release from Fri 26 Oct.