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Joe Bell – Review – Solid Performances From Mark Wahlberg and Reid Miller Elevate the Drama

July 21, 2021

Quick thoughts: – Grade – C+ –  Based on a true story, Joe Bell features standout performances from Mark Wahlberg and Reid Miller. 

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, and written by the Oscar winning duo of Larry McMurtry (I love his book All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers) and Diana Ossana (Brokeback Mountain), the extremely intimate Joe Bell tells the story of a man attempting a cross country walking trip with the goal of raising awareness about bullying. The fly on the wall cinematography by frequent Mark Wahlberg collaborator Jacques Jouffret (Bloodshot, The Purge, Mile 22) brings back memories of Friday Night Lights (movie and TV show), and if you haven’t seen the show or movie, just know that the documentary style is refreshingly intimate and shows just how committed Mark Wahlberg was when he signed onto the project. The non-linear storytelling and certain narrative chocies will most certainly turn some people off, but, if it speaks to people who need to hear the message, this film will be a success. 

Joe Bell tells the story of Joe Bell (Wahlberg), a man who attempts a cross country walk to speak out against bullying after his son’s suicide. His son Jaden (Reid Miller), came out when he was a sophomore in high school, and was subjected to intense bullying, and not enough support at home, this led to him attempting suicide and later dying at an Oregon hospital. The tragedy received widespread coverage, and inspired Joe to walk across the country in order to raise awareness about bullying. 

It’s clear why Jake Gyllenhaal and Cary Joji Fukunaga wanted to produce the film, because it is an interesting story filled with heartbreak and twists. However, the narrative flies all over the place and does not give us many glimpses into the personal lives of the characters. It’s never quite clear who Joe Bell really is, and despite Wahlberg’s strong work, he comes across as a surly dude who has a lot of demons that he needs to let go of. In recent interviews, Wahlberg explained that Joe was abused as a child, and in his mind, not beating his kids made him a good parent. This explains a lot about his character, because he constantly steamrolls his family, gives bad advice, and never really listens. However, since he isn’t violent, he is being a better parent than his father (family scars always run deep). If the narrative would’ve allowed us more time to get into his head, it would’ve been stronger. That being said, there are some strong moments between Wahlberg, Miller and Connie Britton (who plays Joe’s wife Lola), who are at their best when they have time to let their characters breathe, and exist in quiet moments that showcase how committed they are to the movie. 

Final Thoughts: Joe Bell is worth a watch because of the strong performances from Wahlberg and Miller.

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