Review / ‘Don’t Worry; He Won’t Get Far on Foot’ (M) ****

WRITER/director Gus Van Sant’s long filmography is an eclectic list of box office successes and failures. This one is yet to leave its final ranking on the lists. Any favourable abstract description is justified for writer/director Van Sant’s bold, confronting, credible and authentic movie about rehabilitation of a tortured soul in an injured body.

John Callahan wrote about his alcoholism, the car crash that left him almost totally paraplegic, the people he met and his subsequent life as a newspaper cartoonist.

By any measure, it’s an admirable cautionary tale about the unsuitability of strong drink as a life support and a tribute to Callahan’s determination to be himself after life dealt him a hand that might have sent lesser men (and before the accident he wasn’t exactly the model of courage or propriety) to an early grave. There’s reason to accept that it’s pretty authentic.

Joaquin Phoenix is memorable as Callahan, riding an electric wheelchair through road traffic at speeds symbolising equally an unquestioning acceptance of where he was coming from and what he cared about where he was headed.

Jonah Hill comes close to a similar accolade playing the convenor of the Alcoholics Anonymous group that Callahan entered on the first step out of his boozy dilemma.

Playing a rehab nurse Rooney Mara heads a longish list of women whose lives crossed his (the combination of booze and car smash left him bereft of sexual performance ability but not of desire.) Jack Black has an important cameo role as the driver who walked away from the car.

Telling things as they were, the film doesn’t fit neatly into any generic slot. It doesn’t expect a flood or even a trickle of audience tears. It projects a sense of admiration for a man who overcame such powerful obstacles without abandoning his determination and self-effacing humour. Its quirky title offers a clue about its source.

At Palace Electric and Dendy

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