Originally Published on Salty Popcorn #SydFilmFest
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.
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.
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.
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