Of the Joaquin Phoenix vehicles from 2018 – which also included You Were Never Really Here and The Sisters Brothers – I think Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot was my overall favorite. Gus Van Sant’s newest film has a great cast, led by Phoenix, and it jumps around telling the true story of John Callahan. He was a figure I knew very little about, but I found his story compelling, and Van Sant’s choice to tell his story through interwoven narrative strands mostly engaging.
He won’t get Far on Foot, but the film worked well
Callahan was living a self-destructive path as an alcoholic. After an accident leaves him mostly paralyzed, he begins the long and treacherous road to sobriety while learning to deal with his condition. His discovery of cartooning gives him a glimpse of hope that inspires him, and helps strengthen the relationships around him – even while some of his drawings are causing controversy.
Phoenix is usually a lock when it comes to his performance, and it is business as usual here. As Callahan, Phoenix is given a variety of moments that either make us love, hate, or pity Callahan. In the end, I found him to be a mostly likable figure who took a personal tragedy horribly at first but was able to ultimately transform it into a personal triumph. I felt that his struggles with alcoholism and the people he surrounded himself with afterward to be a truly endearing portrait of recovery. Even though I am not sure exactly how Van Sant feels about Callahan, the performance Phoenix delivered made me like him…for the most part.
The cast that plays the supporting people around Callahan includes Tony Greenhand, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Ronnie Adrian, Kim Gordon, Udo Kier, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black (who doesn’t really support Callahan but gives a great performance). The last three are the real highlights, as they give very memorable performances. Jonah Hill looks like a Greek God with his long blonde locks and fancy clothes. He runs an A.A. group and takes on the role of sponsor for Callahan. Mara is a physical trainer who meets Callahan soon after his accident, and later develops a strong relationship with him. They definitely have some good chemistry, but Mara almost always gives a strong screen presence – and that stands true here. Black is an actor who I’ve long been a fan of, and his career is always so interesting to watch. He can truly play many different roles but often manages to still feel like Jack Black in most of them. That is exactly what he is asked to do here, but his character is so crucial to the story, and Black nails the performance in the few moments he gets.
Van Sant movies don’t always click with me, but I found this film very engaging. The choice to weave the three different timelines together doesn’t always work, though. There are moments where it is hard to tell when in Callahan’s story we are witnessing. Others, like when he is still able to walk or when he is cartooning, is much more clear regarding when they are transpiring in the overall narrative, but there are many sections in the middle that are hard to place on the timeline of his life. It makes many of the moments feel slightly disconnected from the overall narrative, but since it all centers around Callahan, it doesn’t have a negative impact on the film as a whole.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot was definitely worth my time. I enjoyed the film collectively, but really enjoyed the performances all around. The film also made me think more about the process of recovery, and the idea of seeking forgiveness from those we’ve wronged. Those scenes really left an impact on me, and have had me thinking about them often since I watched it. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.