Walkaway Joe - 8 Ball on the Silver Screen
Walkaway Joe – 2020

Director Tom Wright
Screenplay Michael Milillo
Stars David Strathairn, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Julian Feder

After discovering that not only did David Strathairn star in this film, but he co-produced Walkaway Joe, there was no question it should be worth viewing. There is nothing new through the first three acts of this debut directing effort by veteran character actor Tom Wright.

The story is about a young boy, Dallas (Feder) who begins a quest to follow his father Cal (Morgan) after the latter leaves the family for a life hustling pool halls and playing tournaments. Along the way, he finds Joe Haley (Strathairn), who seems to be ambling in no particular direction.

There is a direction to the story, and it is a well worn path. Joe has his own demons, though he’s gotten past “…a few…” of them, and he has a family that he is estranged from as well. Dallas and Joe go through the same machinations most buddy movies go through. They show a fondness for each other in one screen, then fight frivolously in the next. Those thinking that Dallas is going to replace one father figure for another will find at least one surprise.

Morgan fits like a glove in the role of the deadbeat dad. He’s more a buddy than an adult, and he knows he’s never going to be a real father. There are hints that his own father did the same routine on him, and he expects Dallas will be fine following in his wandering footsteps. Joe’s presence presents an alternative to this seeming fate for Dallas.

The biggest challenge for this film is that none of the acting comes close to Strathairn and Morgan, even with the latter in cruise control. Feder only occasionally rises beyond the bland material, mostly when his co-stars lead him down the path of emotional uncertainty that their gravitational pull.

For his part, Strathairn is mostly aces. The script doesn’t allow for a ton of interpretation, but he makes the most of every opportunity. There is nothing here to challenge him in the way that John Sayles can, but there is certainly enough to make the viewer wonder how in the hell he’s not on the short list for awards season. It certainly won’t be happening any time soon, the way they’ve changed the qualifications.

He has two scenes in the last act that more than meet the price of one’s time and admission. Wright plays each scene by the numbers. It’s not every director who has the talent to create exciting trick shots like Scorsese in The Color of Money. One certainly won’t blame him for keeping a tight edit to the proceedings. We don’t see a plethora of shots in their entirety, but the only trick I want to see is how Strathairn can move us with so few words.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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