Joe the King is a tale of a young lad virtually abandoned by society and family. The father (Val Kilmer) is an abusive, alcoholic; the mother is a passive female who allows the abuse. In essence, she has given up. The older brother is in the same mess. All he has going for him is the fact that he is a year older, and is, perhaps, more attractive. Joe, for the most part, seems more like a little hobo (or to some, perhaps, a modern Artful Dodger).
This movie will carry you through many emotions, and most will be painful...even down right depressing. Fleiss plays his part perfectly. His facial expressions and body language can make you laugh in one moment; make you want to cry in the next.
The opening scene was difficult for me. A younger Joe has his pants pulled down and is paddled by his antagonistic teacher. I don't think this would have really happened during the time frame of this movie, but I did flash back to the many times I had to hold my hand out for a swat with a wooden ruler.
While Joe tries to work at a legitimate job, he finds it ever too tempting to start stealing. Joe is going to pay off his alcoholic father's debt and replace his mother's record collection; it was destroyed by the father during a drunken rage. Joe never uses the money for his own gain.
You will find yourself 'rootin' for Joe. You don't want him to get caught. But a meddling school counselor (Hawke) upsets the scheme, ultimately leading to the arrest and conviction of Joe. The counselor thinks he is helping. HA!
Prior to Joe's departure to the juvenile facility, the father delivers a rather touching dialog. But, too little, too late.
Many people may find this movie too much of a downer. You want a happy ending; it is not there.
If you are a male 25 or older, and if you had an abusive, alcoholic father...if you were ever tempted to steal something...if your boyhood days were tough and you lived on the edge of what could have been 'normal' but was in fact hell...if you've loved and lost, then you will probably enjoy this movie. I think it's a great movie, but then, again, I could see a lot of myself in Joe; I just never got caught. I recommend the DVD version, simply for the exceptional narrative.