This time of year as the theatres across the country brace themselves for the onslaught of big budget, popcorn action flicks, the counter programming that comes out not only in theatres but via UVOD as well become equally as important. After a successful festival run that included TIFF last year, "Joe" is a simple but incredibly intense drama about the cycles of abuse in our lives and the power of friendship that can ultimately break it.
Ex-con Joe (Nicolas Cage)runs a 'tree-poisoning' crew and while he might be a little reckless with his women, his dog and his truck, all he ultimately wants is to be left alone, even though trouble has a knack for finding him That is until one day when he crosses paths with young Gary (Tye Sheridan) who has never seen the inside of a school in his life or gotten a single break in his life comes to him looking for a job. In Gary, Joe sees his determination to be better and provide a better life for his family something that his degenerate father fights him on at every turn. The two become quick friends and when Gary runs into a problem bigger than he is capable of handling, he turns to Joe and that sets off a brutal chain events so that Gary doesn't have to go down the same path that Joe once did.
"Joe" is ultimately a gritty character drama that marks a return to form for Cage and the continuation of a remarkable streak for one of the better working directors in cinema today.
Working from the novel by Larry Brown, screenwriter Gary Hawkins and director David Gordon Green have truly crafted a desperate slice of life on that razor's edge between being an upstanding citizen and a degenerate human being. Green is a natural at maximizing natural light and using the surroundings in the underbelly of a depressed American landscape to create his worlds and this is no different as we see these people struggle against their surroundings.
It's a film that relishes in its dialogue as it is all very methodical and all with a point. It sets the mood, it establishes the characters in this dank existence that these people live in and strive against at the same time. Characters turn on a dime from harmless to menacing and it keeps us as an audience consistently on edge as this ensemble of actors truly dove into the material that was on the page.
In what can almost be called a temporary renascence, Nicolas Cage returns to the kind of role that made him famous and popular in the first place. Joe is simply oozing with rich levels of character and intrigue that Cage successfully keeps bubbling on the surface. Cage brings this man's rage, his pain and his ultimately kind heart to the surface as he befriends young Gary in what is easily one of the best performances that he has delivered in recent memory. Tye Sheridan who audiences first got a genuine glimpse of in "Mud" successfully matches Cage at every turn and we buy into as their relationship grows because Joe sees so much of himself in Gary and feels obligated to make sure that Gary doesn't have to have the same life that Joe does. The balance of the ensemble does some strong work, especially Gary Poulter who was actually a homeless man that David Gordon Green cast as Gary's father, who sadly died on the streets a few months after filming. Poulter brought a chilling air to it all and along with Sheridan and Cage every moment of this film couldn't help but feel so incredibly genuine.
It's too easy for excellent, gritty little character dramas like "Joe" to fly under the radar during this time of the year, so if you want to check out something a little different at the theatres or even in the comfort of your own home, "Joe" won't disappoint.
4 out of 5 stars.
"Joe" opens in theatres in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary tomorrow as well as via all major UVOD providers across the country.