Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Name is Joe


Starring: Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall, David McKay, Anne-Marie Kennedy, David Hayman, Gary Lewis

Rated R for Pervasive Language and Some Violence, Sexuality and Drug Use

Ken Loach frequently makes movies about the British working class.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it's not all that different from the American working class: blue collar jobs, scarce money, and cigarettes being common.  Loach keeps the characters at an arm's distance, but the performances are strong enough that it makes for worthwhile viewing.

Joe Kavanagh (Mullan) is a recovering alcoholic and approaching his one-year sobriety.  He paints houses, and with his friend and co-worker Shanks (Lewis), coaches a soccer team.  One of his players, Liam (McKay), is an ex-con and former drug addict with a wife Sabine (Kennedy), who is also an ex-addict, and a three-year-old son.  They're being watched over by a social worker named Sarah Downie (Goodall).  Joe becomes smitten, and embarks on a romance with her.  But Liam owes money to a local drug lord named McGowan (Hayman).  Joe wants to help him, but that could ruin everything.

This is not a happy story.  But it lacks real power because, for whatever reason, director Ken Loach makes it difficult to form a bond with the characters.  Whether due to obvious budget constraints or bland cinematography, it's difficult to become actively involved with any of the characters.

It's a shame, really, because there are some terrific performances to be found here.  Scottish character actor Peter Mullan (he was the veteran who advocated running away from battle in "Braveheart," and the drunken father in "War Horse") dominates the film by giving a fantastic performance.  Joe is impossible not to like; he's affable, friendly, and truly loves both Sarah and Liam.  He's present in almost every scene, so the film essentially lives or dies on his shoulders, so it is fortunate that he delivers.  Easily equaling him is Louise Goodall, who plays Sarah.  She's a hard-working single woman who deserves love, and finds kinship with this likable, almost happy-go-lucky man.  But she soon finds out that he has his demons.  Veteran creep David Hayman turns up as a drug lord as well.

Do I think this movie is worth seeing?  Yes.  The performances are strong enough to overcome the deficiencies of Loach's approach.  Be warned, however.  The Scottish accents are so thick that the distributor put in English subtitles, despite the fact that the characters are, in fact, speaking English.  Indistinguishable dialogue, be it from accents, loud action or soundtracks, is one of my pet peeves, but believe me, you'll be thankful.

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