My Name Is Joe

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My Name Is Joe

Filmmaker Ken Loach has never been high on good times. My Name Is Joe, like many of his movies, is set in working-class Scotland, a place so blue-collar that the coarse regional dialect requires the use of subtitles. (If you think they're unnecessary, close your eyes and try to understand what the characters are saying.) The Joe of the title, played to perfection by Peter Mullan, is a recovering alcoholic, 10 months on the wagon and generally happy with how his life has improved. He coaches a soccer team full of lovable losers, does odd jobs on the sly to supplement his welfare checks, and woos the local social worker (Louise Goodall). Though the complicated and tender romance between Mullan and Goodall and Mullan's battle for sobriety are more than enough to carry the film, Loach unfortunately can't resist tossing a token bad guy into the mix: It seems that one of Mullan's soccer players (David McKay), a former drug addict and struggling father whose wife has returned to the numbing effects of smack, is in trouble with drug dealers, and Mullan's selfless attempts to rescue his friend predictably result in violent disaster. The past few years have witnessed a rebirth of gritty tales of poverty and strife in the British isles: My Name Is Joe was preceded by the equally gripping and equally well-acted TwentyFourSeven and Nil By Mouth. However, only Loach's film chooses a conventional villain to motivate his characters toward self-destruction, and after all the build-up, the open-ended conclusion is highly unlikely. But the astounding performances more than make up for the inadequacies of the narrative.

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