A destitute 14-year-old struggles to keep his life together despite harsh abuse at his mother's hands, harsher abuse at his father's, and a growing separation from his slightly older brother. Petty thefts for food grow into more major takes until he steals a cash box from the diner where he works. Although Joe uses the money to pay off some of his father's debts and to replace his mother's records that his father smashed in a fit of temper, Joe gets no thanks. Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Leguizamo was originally set to direct the film, but after being cast as Jorge as well, as serving as executive producer, Frank Whaley stepped in as director as well as staying on as a producer. See more »
Although the film is supposed to take place during the 1970s, Joe is seen wearing a name brand underwear with the company logo on the waistband. This particular brand didn't produce that style until the late 1990s. See more »
[spanking Joe violently, making it personal]
You're just like your father.
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Joe the King is about a boy, who having been raised in a broken home with an abusive drunken dad and absent mom, heads the wrong path by stealing ever bigger things and eventually having to face the consequences for it. His only salvation is the crack that has opened between him and his parents, and the humanistic nature to do good in him that has been so overcome by the other things in his daily life.
We're shown Joe coming from a broken home, which is pretty standard in these kinds of movies. That resulted in a boy that doesn't conform to the general crowd and is often confrontational. Stealing doesn't even become a moral issue anymore for him, but an opportunistic one. In the course of the film, we learn that Joe is not stealing for self-fulfillment, but is often out of necessity due to hunger. What we gradually learn is that it is also due to him having a heart deep down inside him, in which he yearns to show his feelings in the only way he can. Instances like giving away most of the ho-ho's that he just stole to a bunch of hungry kids than gathered around him, to him going out of his way to steal food from the grease spoon joint that he works in so that his brother won't go hungry, along with doing the big heist to pay off his forever in-debt father and replace all his mom's records, which were broken in one of his father's drunken rage. At the same time, he rides that bike that is on its last leg, and keeps on wearing those sneakers that are beyond worn out. This is probably why Joe is the King, although reference to it does not indicate why or implies otherwise.
His relationship with his parents is the type where only the basic things are said to each other. His parents, who are so pre-occupied, either being drunk or working to support the family, forgot to realize that the kids needs more than just a roof to live under and barely enough food in the stomach. There is this assumption by the mom that the kids would somehow turn out all right, as long as there is the bare minimal amount parenting involved. Joe yearns for more affection from them, but they do not provide any, and he doesn't know how to open up for it.
In the end, on Joe's last day of freedom, we see a glimpse of hope in him. His yearning for a family truly shows, he tries to go all out on his last meal but cannot indulge on it. And on the final goodbye between him and his parents, the emotional door opens slightly. He still have mountains of hurdle ahead, but the light at the end of the tunnel have gotten a bit brighter.
The movie takes its time telling the story without forcing the big event to happen until the characters are fully developed. Although the event that sends him away does might have been anticlimactic, this is probably due to our assumption that he is heading that way already, and the fact that there is nothing out in the real world for him anyway. It is his self-realization of himself and redemption that has more of significance.
The film does not try to sentimentalize anything, everything is told as is. The acting by Noah Fleiss, playing Joe was very realistic, playing the boy who have never been loved. His mom, played by Karen Young, is really good. Her inability to communicate with Joe, but her feelings for him showing through in her distant expressions. His father, played by Val Kilmer, is mixed. The drunken violent man is played to the extreme, but he does allow the character to have subtleties at the end.
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