By John H. Foote


Based on the true stories of Jaden Bell and his father Joe, portrayed with infinite sadness by Mark Wahlberg, this deeply heartbreaking film, so aching with profound honesty and loss, is a powerful experience. Jaden Bell was a gay teenager who was bullied relentlessly by the students at his high school, and though he had friends, he was mercilessly taunted and assaulted by the jocks of the school. Openly and unashamedly gay, Jaden knew who he was, but found no support from the school board, and eventually felt so alone he hung himself, ending his life.

Can you imagine being so beaten down you place a rope around your neck and choke the very life out of yourself? Jaden did, Jaden was that alone.

His father knew his son was gay and accepted him as such, but he later admitted he could have done more to support his boy.

Joe was mired in grief and despair before embarking on a walk across America, hoping to build and further create awareness about bullying in high schools. He stops along the way to speak, accompanied at the beginning by the ghost of his boy, father and son together one last time. They laugh, they smile, they argue, their love for one another always at the forefront of their relationship, though Joe tells a group of high schoolers that he failed his son.

Wahlberg has grown leaps and bounds as an actor since his debut back in the nineties, since Boogie Nights (1997), even since his Oscar nomination as the hot-tempered cop in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006). There is real gravity and weight in his performance, as the staggering weight of grief bears down on him, never easing up his guilt. Wahlberg carries the film, his furrowed brow seeming to ask a permanent question, why? He just cannot comprehend why his son felt so alone his only peace was to die. It is a profoundly moving performance.

Connie Britton does fine work as his wife, and Gary Sinise has a cameo as a decent cop sharing some of Joe’s burden.

Haunting the landscape of the film as well as Joe’s very existence is Reid Miller as Jaden, a bright-eyed young man beaten down by hatred and cruelty that neither he nor his father truly understand. His scenes with his father have a curious hope when we learn why.

Deeply moving, forever haunting, this is the finest work of Mark Wahlberg’s career.

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