The bonds between fathers and sons are the focus of Walkaway Joe. Dallas McCarthy (Julian Feder) is a 14-year-old heading down a bad path. Unforutnately, his father Cal (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is far from a good role model and Dallas idolizes him. Cal is a swindler, going from pool hall to pool hall trying to hustle people out of money. He gets in with a bad crowd and his debts keep racking up. Even worse, Cal loops Dallas into his hustles. Dallas has an innocent demeanor, and this demeanor combined with his age causes other players to underestimate his pool skills.
Cal’s wife Gina (Julie Ann Emery) has had enough. She is sick of Cal not ever acting like Dallas’s father, always just his friend with her always being the bad guy. The troubles for Dallas continue as he starts getting into fights at school and disrespecting his mother. Cal finally reaches his breaking point and walks out on the family via a shitty little handwritten note.
Dallas can’t accept that Cal gave up on his family and left. He decides to runaway and track his father down. There is a big tournament in Baton Rouge, and he knows Cal can’t turn down an opportunity like that. Dallas rounds up any money he has saved, grabs his pool cue, and hits the open road on his bike. On the way he figures he should probably stop by a pool hall and beef up his funds. When a dispute arises over payment, Joe Haley (David Strathairn) is the only one that steps up to defend Dallas. Joe eventually agrees to drive Dallas to meet his father, but is this an act of kindness, or is Joe running away from something himself?
Walkaway Joe has a talented cast – most notably Morgan and Strathairn – but they never reach their full potential. Michael Milillo’s script and Tom Wright’s directing bog down these talents and don’t provide them the ability to shine. We do not get nearly enough character development to truly care about what his happening to anyone on screen. There are a couple heartfelt moments, but few and far between. On top of that, these moments feel forced and awkward. Even when Joe tries to impart wisdom on Dallas, there is no weight to the words, and they ring hollow.
Wright tries to spice things up, adding upbeat music and swinging camera angles to some pool hall scenes. He successfully captures the illusion of fun and excitement in billiards. Of course, this is fleeting as the seedy world Cal and Dallas are living in engulfs any happiness from the game. Wright emphasizes stakes being raised at the tables by adding slow motion and an echoing effect to the shots. This method creates some excitement to the game as the audience braces for the tension of each shot. These moments aside, Walkaway Joe has an overall slow pace to the film – things progress slowly, people talk slowly, and the colors are dull and muted. This decision backfires as the energy is almost completely zapped as the film drags on. When the dust settles, Walkaway Joe does not do enough to distinguish itself, not making it worth seeking out.