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Directed by John G. Avildsen, the man who gave us Rocky and The Karate Kid for Cannon Films in 1970, Joe begins with a scene in which a junkie forces his girlfriend, Melissa Compton (a young Susan Sarandon in her big screen debut!), to get high with him. A short time later, as she's stoned and wandering the makeup section of a store, the cops grab her and drop her off at the local hospital for treatment. After this happens, her father, Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick), heads to the junkies house to grab Melissa's belongings and while he's there, he kills him.
Understandably rocked about what just happened, Bill stops at a local watering hole on the way home to calm down. Here he meets Joe Curran (Peter Boyle), who is clearly three sheets to the wind, where he admits that not only does he hate junkies, but that he just killed one.
When Joe hears about the murder of a drug dealer on the local news a day or two later, he remembers his encounter at the bar. He manages to track down Bill's phone number and arrange a meeting where, to Bill's surprise, Joe tells him how much he admires what he's done and how he's going to help him get away with this. While they spend the night falling into a few bottles, Melissa makes her way out of the hospital and back to the Compton home, only to run away when she learns that her boyfriend was killed. It's then that Bill, with Joe's help, heads out to find her. As the pair make their way into the hippie scene/drug underworld, things start to take some interesting twists and turns.
Written by Norman Wexler (of Saturday Night Fever, Mandingo and Serpico fame), this one works one a few levels. Joe and Bill, birds of a beer-soaked feather, make an interesting pair. They enable each other, until they don't, and you know from the start of their relationship, once it's apparent that Joe is meeting up with Bill not to blackmail him but to help him get away with murder, that things are very likely going to go wrong here. Yet, these two characters feel very real, and that's not just the current political climate seeping into this review. People like this exist and people like this make the world a worse place. At the same time, there's an appreciable earthy quality to both men. They're not ‘bad guys' in the typical movie villain sense, they're just kind of pigheaded and maybe more than a little ignorant.
Bill, at least, didn't set out to kill his daughter's boyfriend, it just sort of happened. You can understand a father's rage and anger towards someone who got his kid hooked on drugs. That doesn't make his actions right, murder is murder after all, but it does at least humanize him. Dennis Patrick, who had a lengthy career in film and television (some will recognize him as Paul Stoddard from the popular gothic soap opera Dark Shadows) is really solid in the role. After what he's been through, he's a bit more fragile than his new friend. As such, he winds up being quite manipulated in the film, even if he doesn't really realize it at the time.
Joe, on the other hand, has quite a mouth on him. He's brash, loud and an instigator. He's essentially an agent of chaos, creating turmoil when it suits him and only too happy to have a go with anyone who might question his point of view. There's a very good reason that, in one shot, Joe is framed with the instantly recognizable ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?' anti-Nixon poster in clear view right behind him. Boyle couldn't be better in the part, this is truly a career highlight for him. He delivers his dialogue, most of which is so politically incorrect that you can't help but laugh at it… at least at first… with such earnest conviction that you almost forget it's an actor as recognizable as Peter Boyle playing the part.
As the film progresses, it shifts gears. It starts with drama and tragedy, segueing into more humorous territory, and then ends on an unexpected but somehow inevitable catastrophe. By the time we get there we're left questioning right and wrong, asking ourselves what we might do in a situation like this and how far we might go to prove a point. It's powerful, though provoking stuff that moves at a good pace and features strong direction and cinematography. It's well-lit and makes good use of some appropriately working-class type locations to give it some grit.The Blu-ray
Joe arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen on a 25GB disc from Olive Films. Generally speaking, this is a pretty nice transfer. There's a little bit of print damage here and there but the image is, for the most part, clean enough that this doesn't prove distracting. Colors typically look quite good and skin tones pretty natural. Black levels are solid if a step or two away from perfect, while detail and texture are strong throughout, even if it looks like they could have been a bit better had the film been given a newer scan. There's good depth to the image and no evidence of noise reduction, edge enhancement or heavy compression artifacts. This is quite film like and free of all but minor issues.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is also pretty solid. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow. The mono mix does show its age in that it is a tiny bit flat here and there but otherwise, the levels are properly balanced, dialogue is clear and the score sounds pretty solid. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.Extras:
No extras outside of a trailer and menus screens, unfortunately.Final Thoughts:
Joe is an unsung classic, a great movie highlighted by an even greater performance from Peter Boyle. It's smart, it's challenging and it's very well made. The Blu-ray release from Olive Films, long overdue, presents the film with no extras but in a nice presentation. Fans of quirky seventies American cinema should consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.