Film review: ‘DON’T WORRY HE WONT GET FAR ON FOOT’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built for Speed’

Gus Van Sant’s latest film, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot, which stars Joaquin Phoenix, is the confronting biopic of provocative American cartoonist John Callaghan, a person who, in this film at least, recalls both Robert Crumb and Larry Flint.

After unwisely getting into a car with a drunk driver following a party in the late 70’s, Callaghan was left a paraplegic when the driver crashed. The film dramatises his attempts to rebuild his life not only from the accident but from alcoholism and the damage inflicted by a childhood in which he was abandoned and given up for adoption by his mother.

Oscillating between surreal satire and visceral drama, the film evokes the feral energy of the 70’s while recalling cinematic studies of courage in the face of disability such as The Sessions.

Callaghan’s work as a cartoonist was extensive and often controversial leading to protests against the publications for whom he worked. He also contributed to provocative animated series Quads. This film, however, is more about Callaghan’s personal life than his cartoon work which feels like a loss.

The idea of Joaquin Phoenix playing an alcoholic paraplegic almost seems like the set-up for a Saturday Night Live sketch about an actor desperately searching for an Oscar but Phoenix invests the character with such a convincing mix of anger, self-destructiveness and yet redemptive spark that he deftly avoids cliché. Phoenix gives Callaghan the sense of someone constantly about to tip over the edge emotionally or get punched in the face.

Phoenix is backed by a strong cast including an almost unrecognisable Jonah Hill as his creepy but insightful Alcoholics Anonymous Svengali Donny who looks like a member of the Allman Brothers Band and talks in weird quasi philosophical haikus. There’s been talk of an Oscar nom for Hill. In the early part of the film Rooney Mara is also wonderful as Callaghan’s physical therapist and lover Annu who brings light and warmth to what is largely a dark story. Unfortunately, her character fades from the story in the film’s latter stages. In what seems to be a comeback year for Jack Black he steals a few scenes as Dexter the irresponsible drunk driver who irrevocably changes Callaghan’s life.

Often switching from jokey to serious, the film’s more heartfelt moments don’t always strike as hard as they should but this is still a compelling insight into a fascinatingly wayward character.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Biopic.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Gus Van Sant.

Release date: 27th Sep 2018.

Running time: 114 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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