It is a movie adapted from a Jonathan Ames novella and it features Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a horribly messed- up individual. As a combat veteran and former FBI agent with post-traumatic stress disorder he pops pills constantly. Pills are expensive so he earns money to buy them as a hired gun who rescues trafficked girls. In his free time he cares for his elderly mother in his childhood home in New York City. Overall fun and games.
One day his handler, McCleary, informs Joe of an important job which might make or break their careers and contribute vastly to their pension fund.
A New York State Senator, Albert Votto, has offered a large sum of money to find and rescue his daughter, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) who’s run away from home and most probably has been forced to work as a prostitute. Of course utter discretion is a must – imagine the scandal. Joe finds the girl in one of luxurious brothels for rich men who prefer them underage, the younger the better. He violently kills several security guards and patrons while recovering Nina and yes, his favourite weapon seems to be a solid ball-peen hammer you can find in your average DIY store. While waiting at a motel to return the doped up girl to Votto, Joe sees local news reports that the Senator has apparently committed suicide. Corrupt police officers storm the motel room and take Nina away. Joe manages to overpower an officer who is guarding him and escapes. Will he find the girl again?
First let me tell you that I’d never recognize Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, not in a hundred years. Only his heavily regulated, black eyebrows gave him away as a Hollywood actor. Apart from that he looked like a bad case of a disability pension recipient – greasy, unkempt, longish hair and beard, an unhealthily chubby face, a beginning of a paunch, baggy clothes which perhaps have been laundered properly last century or so. If you think now ‘that’s good, kudos for achieving that, Mr. Phoenix’ let me add the Joe persona was hardly believable as somebody fit enough to overcome and kill several opponents using just that hammer of his. He had too much bulk and too little muscle if you know what I mean. Add to that the fact that he was popping strong prescription drugs all the time which made him see visions and daydream on and off among other things and you get a very unlikely ‘wet job’ man. How could he properly focus at all? How could he think? I wouldn’t hire him for sure.
To be honest I didn’t like the movie. While watching it I was constantly waiting for Joe to move his bottom for real and do something clever. Uncharacteristically, I also wanted the narration to speed up. In vain. Overall I think the whole story lacked a coherent plot, a bit of humour relief, and a more likeable hero. I grant it, there was one great scene during which Joe and an assassin sent to kill him end up lying on a kitchen floor together, quietly singing along to Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me” on the radio and holding hands – dark, ironic and witty. Still what’s one scene in a 95-minute movie? A drop in a glass.
Also, a serious lack of any cohesive backstory concerning the main character meant the movie never managed to engage me emotionally. For example it was never explained why Joe had those disturbing episodes featuring a plastic bag put on his head (a suicide attempt?) or a pair of bare feet on a sandy beach (one of his foreign missions?). These were clearly memories from the past but what really happened? When? Why?
Of course the imagery was lovely and the score was spot-on as well – that’s why the movie got a few awards. Still it wasn’t enough.
Sex trafficking, political corruption, childhood trauma, suicidal fantasy, and the frequent application of ball-peen justice – all shown at a slowish, even somnambulant pace. For fans of artistic visions and Joaquin Phoenix but borrow the movie and watch it at home. Still prepare a lot of snacks, you might need them.