A notably realistic portrait of borderline poverty and familial dysfunction, "Joe the King" has such commendable performances and such an amazingly assimilating sense of time, place and circumstance that I hate not being able to recommend it.
The writing-directing debut of under-appreciated actor Frank Whaley -- you probably know him as the guy Samuel L. Jackson shot after quoting Ezekiel 25:17 in "Pulp Fiction" -- his "Joe" script won a screenwriting award at Sundance this year for its story of a foul-mouthed 14-year-old boy (Noah Fleiss) trapped in a sullen, angry, desperate life he'll probably never escape.
His abusive, hard-drinking father (a paunchy, intimidating Val Kilmer) is a constant threat and an embarrassment who owes money all over town. A troublemaker at school (to add to his shame, his dad is the janitor), Joe takes ceaseless, cruel criticism from his teachers and more of the same from his boss (he washes dishes at a local greasy spoon). The poor kid has spent his life learning the hard way to fend for himself.
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