If it’s slipped your mind that Gus Van Sant directed ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Finding Forrester’, here’s a reminder that he still believes in redemption for characters who choose self-destruction over living as part of a community. Indeed, human contact ends up being the medicine that heals the tormented soul of John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix, in a role once earmarked for Robin Williams), an alcoholic who becomes a quadriplegic after a drunken car accident. He finds reluctant redemption in AA and his own personal Mr Miyagi in sponsor Donnie (an odder-than-usual Jonah Hill), finding his way out of the depths via a newly discovered flair for drawing cartoons
Van Sant doesn’t naturally go for easy sentimentality, and here he dwells enjoyably on his character’s cynicism and black humour. But Callahan’s cartoons aren’t exactly what you’d call politically correct, and it feels like a bit of a letdown to see the chewier side of his artistic expression largely unaddressed in the film’s flagging second half. Phoenix is reliably on the money, but a little more irreverence and punch wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Byline: Sergi Sánchez