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UK 1998
Directed by
Ken Loach
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

My Name Is Joe

Authenticity is, needless to say, a non-negotiable for director Ken Loach and it is entirely characteristic of his latest film, My Name Is Joe. The only downside to this is that the Glaswegian brogue of its characters is so thick that in the absence of sub-titles one struggles to understand what is being said (the American release was sub-titled). Although you can't exactly call it a short-coming it does frustrate engagement somewhat.

Joe (Peter Mullan) is an unemployed Glaswegian who has been on the wagon for ten months when he meets Sarah (Louise Goodall ) and a community health worker and after some misgivings, at least on her part,  they decide to give love a chance.  An affable chap who knows only too well how hard is the struggle to survive at the bottom of society, he coaches the local soccer team and takes a protective interest in Liam (David McKay) whose girlfriend, Sabine (Anne-Marie Kennedy), is a heroin user. Although his intentions are good in both respects, these two aspects of Joe's life are going to end up in tragic conflict.

Loach is Britain’s premier social realist film-maker and this film which rightly won a swag of awards for scripting, acting and direction demonstrates amply why this is so. In the first half of the film Loach gives us a slightly sentimentalized  portrayal of the Joe-and-Sarah relationship. Joe is a charmer but also a hot-head whose aspiration to be a better man wins over the caring, level-leaded Sarah.  Although I found Loach’s treatment of Joe a little too romanticized, albeit in the social realist tradition (rather improbably, his finer nature is indicated by his love of classical music), the second half of the film, in which Joe tries to help Liam but finds himself compromising his commitment to Sarah, really bites, convincingly leading us into a moral dilemma for Joe and even achieving thriller tension as Joe comes into contact with the vicious drug underworld (Liam's tragic end is slightly marred by Loach's handling as Joe, previously in an alcoholic stupor suddenly and unconvincingly comes to life)

Both Mullan and Goodall are excellent in their roles and if escapist tosh like the The Full Monty (1997), with its anodyne depiction of chronic unemployment is not your thing, My Name Is Joe will satisfy.




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