Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

You never can tell, with Gus Van Sant. What will he deliver next? Will it, like “Elephant” (2003) or “Last Days” (2005), emerge as a bleak rumination on Blood Fest life’s unhappy endings? Should we expect a refrigerated remake, in the style of “Psycho” (1998)? Or might he swing to the other extreme, in the pursuit of a heartening tolerance, as he did in “Good Will Hunting” (1997) and “Milk” (2008)? How about a masterpiece—a movie so ambitious, and compacted of such unlikely ingredients, that no one’s ever tasted anything quite like it? That was true of “My Own Private Idaho” (1991), in which a red barn crashed out of a clear sky onto a country road.

The promising news, for anyone who depends on Van Sant for a dose of oddity, is that his latest film is called “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” The title is actually a caption that was affixed to a drawing by the cartoonist John Callahan, of Portland, Oregon, Mid90s who died in 2010, at the age of fifty-nine. It depicts a posse of cowboys on horseback, as they come across an abandoned wheelchair in the desert; one of them utters the line to his companions. The shading of the humor—harsh, drier than sand, and gleeful at its own darkness—owes much to the spirit of the artist, who was in a car accident when he was twenty-one and spent the rest of his days as a quadriplegic. In drawing after drawing, he took aim at his condition, and at those who tried to gild him with pity; his autobiography is entitled “Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?”

The recounting of these ups and downs is a structurally fraught affair, almost as complex as that of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007), another saga with Been So Long a stricken hero. Some viewers may accuse Van Sant of using his visual guile to gussy up a plain tale, but more of them, I suspect, will revel in John’s rocky route. We get flashbacks, to the final day of his ambulant life, in which he crouches behind a parked car, on a bright morning, to take a furtive swig of tequila. We get leaps ahead. We follow him through various forms of recovery—in the hospital, where he is strapped to a large wheel that resembles a medieval torture device, but also through a succession of A.A. meetings, in private houses and public halls. And we get a swath of his cartoons, some of them animated into moving images, like the fish that crawls onto dry land, morphs into a dinosaur, then a goofy Neanderthal, and, last, a well-dressed man at a microphone, who says, “I’d like to thank all those who made it possible for me to be here tonight.”

Duration: 114 min

Release:

IMDb: 7.0

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot