Although I've never been much of a fan of the use of subtitles in films -- as they needlessly divert one's attention from the majority of what's a visually delivered medium and could easily be replaced by dubbed dialogue -- I've always believed that pictures filled with near unintelligible accents could use them.
As such, I'm pleased to report that "My Name is Joe" -- a film filled with Scottish accents that are so thick you'd think the dialogue was being spoken in another language far removed from English -- is accompanied by English subtitles. While that has no real impact on one's opinion of the film's artistic merits, at least it certainly makes it easier to understand what's being said.
With that out of the way, the picture is definitely worth seeing -- if only for the incredibly strong performances -- but it clearly won't entertain or appease the average moviegoer. Despite a pleasant first half that has all of the trappings of a subdued, mature romantic comedy, the film bursts that bubble and becomes a bleak, depressing affair that defies the "escapist" qualities found in most Hollywood-based films.
Up until that change, however, the picture offers some delightful moments, including a fun bowling montage of the two would-be lovers getting to know each other, as well as a humorous bit where Joe and his buddy -- who's never hung wallpaper before in his life -- give Sarah a bluffed, but professional sounding reason why they can't wallpaper her ceiling.
Nonetheless, while this film is named for the opening statement most commonly identified with AA members addressing their meetings -- "Hello. My name is Joe, and I'm an alcoholic" -- it could easily evoke the following, more accurate message. "My name is Joe, I screwed up in the past, and that's going to haunt me forever no matter what my new intentions."
Something of a morality play regarding the saying, "No good deed goes unpunished," the film is an interesting character study of a man who tries -- perhaps too hard and definitely to his detriment -- to right his previous wrongs. Although his intentions are good, it soon becomes obvious that they'll have inevitable, tragic consequences.
Of course, to pull all of this off in a convincing, easy to watch and non-melodramatic manner, one needs good performances from a talented cast. Director Ken Loach ("Sarah's Song"), working from Paul Laverty's screenplay -- gets both, although I'd call Peter Mullan's take much better than merely good. Having played small parts in more well-known films such as "Braveheart" and "Trainspotting," he gives an Oscar-caliber performance of a down on his luck bloke who, despite his better efforts, is doomed for grief.
Having already taken home the best actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Mullan's performance is the type that should get him noticed fast and in a big way. In addition, it continually reminded me of the work of Paul Newman in his earlier days, with both actors capable of so much with just the look of their eyes or the use of their subtle mannerisms.
Louise Goodall ("Sarah's Song") also delivers a great performance to counter Mullan's, and is completely believable -- and better yet, extremely comfortable and natural -- in her role. The chemistry between the two feels right and for most of the film neither shows their acting "seams."
Unfortunately, the film concludes with somewhat of a contrived ending that feels out of step with the rest of what preceded it. Although it's logically and thematically connected, the events feel a bit too forced in a film where everything else comes across as naturally and seemingly unscripted. It's not a tragic flaw for the film, but the sudden jolt of realism throws the picture a bit off kilter.
Even so, the performances alone are worth the price of admission, and if Mullan doesn't go on to bigger and more recognized parts in the near future, it will be a great shame. Moderately entertaining -- at least for the first half with other scattered bits here and there -- the film certainly won't appeal to mainstream audiences and will most likely result in a depressed mood for those who do see it. Nonetheless, one had to admire what Loach has delivered, and for that, we give "My Name is Joe" a 6.5 out of 10.