Writer/director David Gordon Green’s career started with a bang, delivering films like his breakout hit “George Washington” and the excellent drama “Snow Angels.” However, it was after this that he hit a low slump, releasing three extremely sub-par comedies in a row (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness,” and “The Sitter”). He did finally return to form last year with the decent small drama “Prince Avalanche,” so apparently he came to his senses at last and realized where his talents were better utilized.
In the same vein, his latest project, “Joe,” focuses on workers in a small town just trying to get by. Joe (Nicolas Cage) is the leader of a group of workers whose job it is to poison trees so that they can eventually be replaced with more useful ones. Gary (Tye Sheridan) just happens by one day and asks for a job for him and his father. After some quick convincing, Joe gives Gary the job and also agrees to let his father work next time as well. However, it turns out that his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), is nothing but a drunk who is constantly fighting with Gary and taking his money. Meanwhile, Joe has problems of his own. Not only is he always being picked on by the local police, but after slapping another local, Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins), he now has to watch his back for retaliation. Eventually, both storylines come together, forcing a confrontation that will settle things once and for all.
With “Joe,” Green clearly wanted to make another slice-of-life film, a genre that he has had great success with in the past, but unfortunately this time around it appears that he was so focused on the atmosphere that he completely forgot to include an engaging story. Instead, what we get are fragments of storylines that never get anywhere, but what’s perhaps even worse are that the characters are equally unengaging and undeveloped. This leads to a mishmash of scenes that are an attempt to establish life in this small town and elements of the story that should be expanded upon, but never are. Leads Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan (one of the few good things about last year’s “Mud”) try their best with what they have, delivering satisfactory performances, but sadly they just don’t have much to work with in regards to these characters that are merely set adrift in a wasteland of plot strands and atmosphere. The sense of indifference becomes so bad that by the time the climax rolls around, two bloated hours later, there is no feeling left for these characters, so what happens to them becomes quite inconsequential. Green may have been able to get the look and feel of life in a small Texas town right, but without anything beneath the surface, it all ends up being for naught.
“Joe” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of decent quality. For the most part, this is a dark, dreary film with a very drab palette of colors, but still the picture remains crisp and clear throughout the entire presentation. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is very soft, so once again a small adjustment must be made to the volume, but given that it’s mainly a quiet film, it’s not too much of an issue this time. Overall, both video and audio have been given pretty good treatment, allowing for an enjoyable experience.
Commentary with Director David Gordon Green, Composer David Wingo, and Actor Brian D. Mays: A commentary track where none of the participants have anything particularly interesting to say. This probably would have worked out a lot better if Green had been allowed to do a solo track instead.
The Making of Joe: A decent look behind the scenes, featuring interviews with the cast and crew who discuss what it was like to work on the film. It presents some interesting tidbits of info, so it’s worth a watch.
The Long Gravel Drive: The Origins of Joe: A featurette that delves a little into the background of author Larry Brown, who wrote the book that the film is based on, while also discussing the challenges of adapting it into a screenplay. This is another intriguing extra that’s worth taking a look at.
Deleted Scenes: One deleted and one extended scene that total about two minutes. They’re easily skippable given that they add nothing to the film.
“Joe” has just about everything right on the surface, but without anything for the audience to get engaged with, it merely results in an empty film and a waste of two hours. Director David Gordon Green, working from a screenplay adapted by Gary Hawkins, has crafted a film where the characters never come to life because the story is nearly non-existent. By the time the film is over, the pieces haven’t come together into a cohesive whole, merely making you wonder what they were trying to get at with this meandering journey. Green may have gotten back on the right track last year, but if this is any indication, it looks like it hasn’t taken him that long to fall right back off again, even for a film that should have been right in his comfort zone. We can only hope that his next project will show more effort than was given here so that he can truly let his talent shine once more.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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