'Hurt': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Miserablist portrait is less curious than most viewers will be

A one-time Canadian hero, living in squalor.

Nationwide adulation doesn't count for much at all in Hurt, Alan Zweig's decades-later look at Steve Fonyo, who as a teen raised $13 million for cancer research by running across Canada on one good leg but, 30 years later, has to steal car parts to pay the rent. The middle-aged Fonyo proves to be a compelling character in this portrait, which sympathizes with his plight but often seems to wonder how much of his bad luck he brought on himself. Train-wreck-like qualities account for most of the commercial appeal in a doc whose star isn't nearly as famous Stateside as Terry Fox, who attempted the same feat but was forced to stop early; attempts to steer the story's miseries into inspirational territory are only partly successful.

Bone cancer struck Fonyo at the age of 12, and doctors removed most of his left leg. A half-dozen years later, inspired by Fox's attempt to raise funds by running cross-country, he set out to do the same thing. Though initially dismissed as a copycat, he eventually drew tremendous support, enjoyed massive media attention and completed the trip after more than a year on the road. (Viewers unfamiliar with this feat will have to piece the details together for themselves as they go, and may still come up short.)

How did he go from that height to his present state, hated by neighbors in what he calls the worst neighborhood in Canada and having had so many run-ins with the law that he became buddies with the local sheriff? "Somewhere in there I did about 10 years of drugs" is about the closest we get to a timeline of Fonyo's downfall. While press notes contain plenty of biographical details other filmmakers would find useful, Zweig leaves viewers in the dark, informing us just that Fonyo engaged in lots of petty crime to pay for his habits.

Zweig leaves us to glean what we can about the man before us, making four visits over the course of a year and showing that, even at his low state, things can get worse for Steve Fonyo. Married for years to a woman who stuck with him during very rough times, Fonyo cheats on her; gets into a domestic disturbance so messy, its legal fallout dominates the rest of the year; shacks up with the girlfriend despite her drug problems and the "ex" boyfriend who makes him miserable; and goes back to theft to pay his rent.

Stubborn, self-deluded and seemingly beaten, Fonyo is a familiar type taken to extremes. He admits at one point that he thinks the people of Canada are to blame for anything he has done wrong, that they owe him a living after having made him a hero. While Zweig asks some pretty leading questions from behind the camera, his subject seems incapable of much self-awareness.

Finally, Zweig intervenes by setting up an appointment with a therapist who quickly guides Fonyo toward some insights about himself. As we watch the two men talk and hear his impressions afterward, we might start to hope he will turn his life around.

And then, this February, Fonyo is stabbed and beaten in his home, taken off to the hospital with his life in jeopardy. And the movie ends. Bafflingly, it doesn't offer so much as a closing title card to let us know if he's alive, much less if the changes he hoped to make have borne fruit or gone the way of all his other plans.



Production company: MDF Productions

Director: Alan Zweig

Producer: Peter Gentile

Directors of photography: Jonathon Cliff, Ian Kerr, Chris Romeike

Editor: Robert Swartz

Music: Ohad Benchetrit


No rating, 83 minutes