Published Feb 01, 2000Joe (Noah Fleiss) is 14 years old. He is an under-fed, underdeveloped, scrawny thing who grabs bits of food off plates that he washes at a greasy spoon to earn some cash. His father, played by a beer-bellied Val Kilmer, owes money to everyone in town. When he is around, it is only to inspire terror in the lives of his family. He treats Joe not as a son but as a piece of property he owns. "I'm your father and you do exactly what I say," he tells his son as he grabs Joe by the ear. Joe is a slave to be commanded, not a human being to be nurtured. He has nothing so whenever something comes his way, he takes it. An unguarded box of sweets in a corner store, a bag sitting in a locked car - Joe views them all as opportunity. And he soon starts moving on to bigger things.
Joe is a matter-of-fact look at the grim life of a boy who has nothing. The scenes between Joe and his brother - the one who best understands him and shares in his experiences - are especially touching. But while actor Frank Whaley's (Swimming With Sharks, A Midnight Clear) first attempt at directing a feature film is more than competent, it never wanders from the ordinary and it never achieves the lyricism of such films as American Beauty. It is the subject matter more than the execution that makes the movie compelling.