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Joe Bell
Though based on a real life tragedy, the 2021 film Joe Bell is a preachy and pretentious melodrama attempting to deliver an important message that gets buried by overheated direction and the absence of a critical plot point that buried the film's wonderful intentions and made the entire film ring hollow.

Star and executive producer Mark Wahlberg does put some thought into this cinematic rendering of the true events leading up to the father of a teenage boy's decision to travel on foot from his home in Oregon to New York City, as a protest over the bullying of his gay son, making periodic stops and giving speeches at high schools and town hall meetings regarding the dangers of intolerance.

The final project of legendary novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, along with Diana Ossana, focuses on a true tragedy and have recreated a lot of the events that destroyed young Jadin Bell. The tragedy that unfolds has a definite air of predictability that is evident from the beginning of the film where we witness Jadin come out to his father and this is where the primary problem with the film lies for me. It almost seems to place the blame on Jadin's shoulders as Jadin picks a really inappropriate time and place to come out to his father, whose mind is on a football game the conversation is keeping him from. Joe feigns acceptance, but there is never a moment in the film where we actually see Joe accept who Jadin was, making his cross country journey pointless. The first speech we see him make in a high school auditorium seems to go right over their heads and we really don't blame the kids, because Joe is trying to protest something he really doesn't understand.

The presentation of the Jadin character is a little on the cliched side too. It was offensive to see Reid Miller, the actor playing Jadin, made up with way too much rouge on his cheeks and bright red lipstick. Jadin is part of a portion of the screenplay that does work for me...his attempt at romance with a closeted gay athlete at his school, the only part of the movie that really worked for me,

Wahlberg never completely convinces as the title character and director Reinaldo Marcus Green has to take partial blame for that, though Miller is terrific as Jadin. Gary Sinise also makes the most of his cameo as a sympathetic sheriff whose role in the story comes off as way too convenient. Good intentions notwithstanding, this film falters under a preachy screenplay delivered with a sledgehammer.