‘Joe Bell’ takes personal look at extremely large issues

Rick's Reviews

(KGET) — “Joe Bell” is based on the true story of the unimaginable horrible consequences that are the manifestation of relentless bullying. The production would have been strong if it had focused on such hot-button issues such as the lack of training in schools to handle such issues. But, director Reinaldo Marcus Green opted to focus more on the personal story than the political elements.

That approach makes for a movie that is a quiet and deeply meaningful story of love and loss. It’s made all the more powerful by the fact it is based on a true story. Even if you know the story, Green’s approach makes it a powerful offering.

This film is an emotional abyss that reveals in a slow – but determined way – how a man tries to deal with a world that brought so much pain and sorrow to his son who became the target of extreme bullying in his small hometown after revealing he is gay.

Joe Bell (Mark Wahlberg) is an Oregon father who sets out to walk across the United States to reach New York as a way of paying tribute to his son. It is Bell’s intention to draw attention to bullying as he stops in small towns speaking to any groups who will listen to his story.

Although the trip was real, the film uses Bell’s long walk as a metaphor to show the journey the grieving father must take to find his own peace. He says this is a trek for his son but in reality is the only way he can face the demons of hatred that have taken over his life.

Green shows great patience with the film allowing scenes to slowly unfold so that the emotional moments are not big slaps in the face but a series of heart-touching revelations. It helps that the script comes from Diana Ossan and Larry McMurtry – the Academy Award-winning writing team behind “Brokeback Mountain.” They again show a great skill in keeping the focus on the very human elements of the story.

Wahlberg is not the greatest of actors but he is a solid selection for this role as he does come across as an everyman.  What makes him better is the supporting cast that includes the always incredible Connie Britton as Bell’s wife and Gary Sinise as a small-town sheriff who can relate to Bell’s journey.

Even in scenes where the characters played by Wahlberg and Britton speak on the phone, Britton gives each discussion the emotional boost it needs just when the film seems to be losing a step. She is one of a handful of actors who make a production better just by being part of the cast.

His strongest work comes in the scenes where Bell and his son, Jadin (Reid Miller), spend time together. Miller plays each scene with great energy that counterbalances the more subdued work by Wahlberg. It is very easy to believe they are a father and son who are looking for some answers to the massive questions in their lives.

Green had to be very careful here. He takes some liberties with the real story but never to the point that his two central figures become caricatures. The director does brush up against the melodramatic but never crosses the line. He accomplishes this by never getting away from the very key issues surrounding the father and son.

The most surprising thing in regards to “Joe Bell” is that it is anything but your typical summer movie. Traditionally, the films that hit local theaters during the summer are filled with fast action, big explosions and mayhem. You won’t find any of that in “Joe Bell.”

What the film does is use a very heart-breaking and emotionally devastating story to look at the price of pain. Every action by the characters is grounded in such a way audience members should be able to relate with ease. It is not designed to create shouting matches about major issues but to spark conversations about the personal challenges of life.  

That all goes to make “Joe Bell” very different from a typical summer movie. But, in many ways, it is more explosive than any popcorn film opening in the summer months.

“Joe Bell” will be in theaters starting July 23.

Movie review

“Joe Bell”

3 stars

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Connie Britton, Reid Miller, Gary Sinise.

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Rated: R for language, disturbing material

Running time: 94 minutes.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.