Joe The King

This well-acted, despairing portrait of a lower middle class 14-year-old slipping inexorable into crime and alienation is admirably uncompromising. Nothing good ever happens to Joe (Noah Fleiss), the son of a brutal, drunken father (Val Kilmer) who's employed sporadically as a janitor, and a harried, overworked mother (Karen Young) with a secret weakness...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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This well-acted, despairing portrait of a lower middle class 14-year-old slipping inexorable into crime and alienation is admirably uncompromising. Nothing good ever happens to Joe (Noah Fleiss), the son of a brutal, drunken father (Val Kilmer) who's

employed sporadically as a janitor, and a harried, overworked mother (Karen Young) with a secret weakness for the lachrymose song stylings of Johnny Ray. Joe is underfed, scruffy and holding down a part-time job at a local greasy spoon that insures he never gets enough sleep. He's doing badly at

school, being harassed by the many neighbors to whom his father owes money, and can't bring himself to just steer clear of the old man instead of provoking him. The few adults who take a passing benevolent interest aren't much in the way of role models: co-worker Jorge (John Leguizamo) is an

ex-con with a filthy mouth, dopey guidance counselor Len Coles (Ethan Hawke) tries to intervene and makes things infinitely worse. Even Joe's older brother (Max Ligosh) is too caught up in his own troubles to help. Set in the '70s and shot on Staten Island, actor Frank Whaley's

semi-autobiographical writing/directing debut is clearly heartfelt and a welcome respite from the self-referential smirkiness of so many first films. The unusually strong cast smacks of family and colleagues lending their support to an intensely personal project conceived in the tradition of a

PIXOTE and LOS OLVIDADOS. Leguizamo served as executive producer and Hawke signed on when it was still in the script stage. Camryn Manheim and CAFÉ SOCIETY director Raymond de Fellita have small roles as teachers, veteran character actor Austin Pendleton plays a pawn-shop owner and Whaley's

brother Robert acts and composed the score. But in the end, the film feels a little futile; its relentless, one-miserable-note tone is numbing.

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  • Released: 1999
  • Rating: R
  • Review: This well-acted, despairing portrait of a lower middle class 14-year-old slipping inexorable into crime and alienation is admirably uncompromising. Nothing good ever happens to Joe (Noah Fleiss), the son of a brutal, drunken father (Val Kilmer) who's empl… (more)

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