After doing a few films that are below par compared to their earlier films, actor Nicolas Cage and director David Gordon Green return to form with the Southern drama/coming-of-age story/Western, “Joe.”
When Joe (Cage) is not out in the woods with his crew of workers using “juice hatchets” in order to poison trees, he is either at his home drinking alone where his dog constantly barks or visiting the local brothel guarded by a mean dog. Gary (Tye Sheridan) is a neglected teenager who is constantly abused by his alcoholic father, Wade (Gary Poulter). When Joe hires Gary to join his crew, Joe sees that Gary is in need of a father figure. It is a role Joe is hesitant to take on because he has his own problems to deal with including a bad temper and a scarred man (Ronnie Gene Blevens), who has a vendetta against Joe after an embarrassing altercation with him.
Based on a book by Larry Brown, “Joe” marks Green’s second adaptation after the lugubrious and moody “Snow Angels.” It is a welcome return for Green as he returns to his independent roots that allowed him to make films like “George Washington” and “Undertow,” which were portraits of Americana. “Joe” is no different. Green does a fantastic job creating montages featuring beautiful shots of the Southern landscapes and gloomy music courtesy of the incredible work from cinematographer Tim Orr, editor Colin Patton and the composing duo of Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo. While there is a sense of dread and impending violence that hangs over the film, there are some heartwarming and funny scenes including a scene where Joe teaches Gary how to be cool.
This film not only features a restrained performance from a man who has been known for his over-the-top film roles, but it is possibly Cage’s most notable performance since 2009’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans.” Cage’s subtle performance allows him to portray a nice and smart hard-working man who wrestles a rage that he has within himself. It even comes to a point where he has to call the cops on himself in order to keep calm.
Sheridan delivers another remarkable performance as another boy seeking shelter from a father figure whether it as the son of Brad Pitt’s stern and harsh father in “The Tree of Life” or Matthew McConaghey’s escaped felon in “Mud.” With “Joe,” his character is vulnerable when it comes to his family, but the situation arises, he has the power to be strong and brave in the face of danger.
Green has been known to hire non-professional actors in his movies and he certainly found a great actor with Poulter, who was actually homeless man when Green cast him as Gary’s malicious dad. As Wade, he brings a ominous and unpredictable presence to this wretched character that wanders the streets in an old varsity jacket. When he encounters another homeless man, you can almost sense the dread of his impending actions. “Joe” would Poulter’s first and only movie because a couple of months after filming stopped, he was found dead on the streets of Austin.
“Joe” seamlessly mixes genres in order to create a unique movie courtesy of Green’s vision and fantastic performances from Cage and Sheridan.
“Joe” is now playing at AMC Sunset Place 24. Click here for showtimes.