Critic Reviews



Based on 39 critic reviews provided by
In a terrific performance that encompasses countless attitudinal, emotional and physical shifts, Joaquin Phoenix eases into the lead role with equal parts raw pain, ironic humor and eventual mellow acceptance.
Screen Daily
The movie radiates considerable compassion, sensitively addressing issues including addiction, recovery and forgiveness. Joaquin Phoenix’s raw, wiry performance never strives for greatness, which only makes it all the more affecting.
Some will find it entirely too sentimental, others a tad repetitive (Callahan tends to repeat the same stories), but it’s hard to argue with a movie that celebrates the kind of recovery he went through.
What makes Phoenix’s performance especially exciting is that you’re watching not just a character go from chaos to self-possession but an actor, too.
The uplifting nature of this true story naturally triggers Van Sant’s pesky sentimentality, with scenes that recall the hug-it-out, therapeutic catharsis of Good Will Hunting. But this is still the writer-director’s most formally interesting, emotionally involving movie in a decade, however little that may really be saying.
The Playlist
Phoenix is almost otherworldly here. It’s his charismatic performance that often carries the film through its repetitive moments as he expertly takes Callahan on an emotional roller coaster filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Slant Magazine
The film is disarming for its sincerity, unalloyed in its positive thinking but unafraid of showing the gruesome details of alcoholism and denial to back up its bromides.
The movie falls short of deep insights, but its most prominent qualities — scrappy, ephemeral, a little bit lewd — mirror the chief attributes of Callahan’s endearing work.
John Callahan’s life is a fascinatingly complex one, and Phoenix is certainly the ideal actor to portray him, but Gus Van Sant’s maudlin, erratic approach leaves too little of an impression.
There are plenty of great moments, but they jump out amid a jumble of strangely flat scenes. This doesn’t feel like the work of a great master; it’s a discordant brew that just doesn’t blend right.

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