By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn #SydFilmFest
DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT features pretty much all of my favourite people. From Joaquin Phoenix to Rooney Mara to Jack Black to Jonah Hill and even to GOOD WILL HUNTING director Gus Van Sant. Of course this was going to be a must see. There was no way it wasn’t. And yet it seems that all this talent has been put to such little use. Is this film good? Yes. Is it as good as you’d expect given the talent involved? Unfortunately not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a watch.
We follow the true story of John Callahan (Phoenix), who, for a long time now, has been a struggling alcoholic. He doesn’t want to change. His life’s a mess, and that’s okay, but everything comes to a halt when Callahan finds himself in an accident that leaves him as a paraplegic. Life as he knew it is gone, but hope isn’t lost. Throughout the recovery process, Callahan begins to find a new purpose on his rocky road to sobriety. He discovers the power of art, and takes on a job as a cartoonist, which leads to great controversy throughout his career.
DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT feels very much like an actor’s movie. It exists first and foremost to display some magnificent performances from some of my favourite actors. Phoenix is brilliant in the lead role, delivering such an energetic and likeable performance despite playing such a down-on-his-luck, borderline unlikeable dude, but it works. There’s a lot of emotional beats he has to follow through with, particularly in the third act, as his character is thrown about the ring, unable to recover, but the light at the end of the tunnel pulls his performance through and he delivers an all timer.
However, the real MVP of this movie is Jack Black. His appearance is fleeting, but his presence is felt, and it’s the most Jack Black that Jack Black has been since… well, I guess since the last time we saw Jack Black. A little more Rooney Mara could’ve gone a long way, not just because of my bias towards her talents, but because her character feels a little underdeveloped. I honestly don’t even remember the reason for her being there in the first place, but her later development puts things into perspective. Jonah Hill, in fact, may even have the best moment. He delivers a chilling, emotional monologue in his final scene that, had this film been crafted better and gotten the awards attention it aimed for, they could’ve played during his nomination announcement.
Unfortunately, what really drags DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT down is its scattershot screenplay and subpar visuals. There’s no focus towards anything, with plots coming and going without resolution all while bouncing between a number of timelines that don’t appear to have any sort of flow. You know where you are at all times, I’ll give the film that, but you’re not sure why we need to be here. The film tries covering all aspects of his life, but it’s a cluster-fuck of ideas that don’t play well with one another. And this isn’t a slow building annoyance, either. The first ten minutes alone sets up several different timelines and it’s borderline nauseating to watch for nearly two hours.
Van Sant and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt make a bold choice to implement an almost documentary style look for the cinematography, which I understand attempts to recreate this true story in an authentic way, but the final result is horrifyingly ugly. The camera shakes and zooms randomly without anything changing within the frame, making it feel like a film student’s first attempt at making a movie. There are documentaries that have better cinematography than this, and a lot of that is just winging things in the moment. These guys have had months of planning, but the final result feels off-putting and awkward. There’s also a very weird scene in which a ghost visits Phoenix’s character, and it’s laughably bad.
DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT is a good film with glimmers of a great one, but, unfortunately, there are also glimmers of a terrible one too. Some of the sequences here are absolutely fantastic, but they all seem to be followed up with something unusually terrible. And, making it even worse, I double featured this with YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, which, in retrospect, only made this film seem even weaker.
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