My Name Is Joe

          Previously, director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty teamed
  for the overtly political drama
CARLA'S SONG, part of which was filmed on
  location in Nicaragua. Loach has built his career, however, on stark social
  dramas in which his lower-class heroes and heroines struggle against all
  odds (e.g.,
LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD). Together he and Laverty have
  returned to that milieu with
MY NAME IS JOE, which is propelled by a
  brilliant central performance from Scotsman Peter Mullan. Like
  one of the director's earlier successes,
MY NAME IS JOE is being released
  with subtitles ostensibly so American audiences can penetrate the thick
  burr of some of the actors. (Personally I found this a bit jarring as I had
  little difficulty understanding what was being said, but maybe I've seen
  too many British films.)

          The complete title should perhaps be "My name is Joe ... and I'm an
  alcoholic," but the filmmakers felt that most people would be able
  to supply the second half without any prodding. Indeed, at the heart of
  this terrific film is Joe Kavanaugh (Mullan), a Glaswegian who is literally
  trying to live "one day at a time" in the face of numerous obstacles. He
  lives in a depressed Glasgow, where there's little chance for gainful
  employment. Joe spends his days coaching a football team (that's soccer
  to us in the USA) and trying to stay on the straight and narrow. He's
  taken Liam (David McKay), one of the team members, under his wings,
  serving as a mentor, trying to keep the young man and his live-in
  girlfriend off heroin and away from the town's gangsters. In the course
  of assisting Liam, Joe meets Sarah (Louise Goodall), a social service
  worker with whom he begins a tentative love affair. The heart-breaking
  pathos these two actors bring to their roles is palpable. Both characters         
  are clearly wounded souls (although the audience really only learns about
  Joe's violent past; one of the flaws in Laverty's script is that little of
  Sarah's background is revealed), and their slow dance around one another
  rings particularly true.

          Where the film goes awry a bit (and Loach almost seems to lose
  interest) is in a subplot involving the local Mafia who are threatening
  Liam. Joe gets involved to try to save the boy and by doing so threatens
  his relationship with Sarah. The script teeters on melodrama at this point
  and no amount of social realism can overcome that. Clearly, the intention
  was to set Joe up for a fall; the means is ultimately effective even if it
  the strings are showing.. Unlike a Hollywood blockbuster, the denouement
  is not the expected one and it leaves the audience to ponder what might
  happen next.

          Mullan, who received the 1998 Cannes Best Actor prize, is nothing
  short of superb. A compact, swaggering man, he calls to mind Paul
  Newman at the height of his prowess. But Mullan is clearly his own
  actor. His Joe is bursting with repressed energy, possessive of a
  charisma that could melt ice, yet capable of projecting that expectation
  of hope. Mullan has spent several years as a journeyman actor but after
  this performance I would think he would be propelled to the ranks of
  stardom. (In addition, he is also a filmmaker; his feature
  has already received a favorable reception at festival screenings.)
  Matching him is Louise Goodall as Sarah. Their onscreen chemistry
  and ease make their romance believable. The supporting cast, as in
  many of Loach's films, is a mix of professionals and non-professionals.
  Gary Lewis as Joe's friend Shanks, who also has battled the bottle,
  David McKay as the troubled Liam, Anne-Marie Kennedy as his
  drug- using girlfriend and especially David Hayman as the creepily
  menacing gangster McGowan all offer indelible performances.

                  Rating:                B
                  MPAA Rating:        R
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.