So here’s the conundrum. There are so many good things going for ‘Joe Bell’ that I can’t help but root for it – it has a screenplay by the tandem of Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (they did this little thing called ‘Brokeback Mountain’) and film is expertly directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. And I have to admit, I weeped a couple of times during the film, and I was especially moved by Reid Miller’s performance as Jadin, the gay teenager who took his life because he was bullied by his classmates. And the message, of course, resonates, and will always be timely and important. I mean, all these elements should add up to something special.
But… the stench of Mark Wahlberg permeates. This is a star vehicle for him, designed to elicit sympathy, a redemption vehicle seemingly from his racist past. And I may have been able to get past that if he were good, but he isn’t. He tries subtlety but I did not see any depth there. As a matter of fact, I did not feel anything from him, and I found it such a waste of effort. This could have been any actor’s piece, and it would have worked infinitely better.
So – did I like the film? Yes, in a lot of ways I did. I am begrudgingly recommending it despite its bad central performance, and just wish for what might have been.