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Joe: Nick Cage, in a movie that isn’t horrible!

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Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Rated R for violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content

Despite his sketchy past, everybody in town seems to admire Joe (Nicolas Cage) a man who is portrayed by director of horrendous comedies, David Gordon Green (Your Highness, Pineapple Express, The Sitter) as the personification of the spirit of the blue collar worker. Joe works as foreman of a group of men whose job consists of poisoning trees so that lumber company’s can more easily clear them out. One day a 15 year old kid wanders onto his jobsite, asking for work. Joe agrees, taking the kid under his wing. But when Joe sees firsthand the kid’s abusive home-life, he might just have to go all Cameron Poe on someone.

I’ll let you know right now, the performances from the strong supporting cast are the main reason to see “Joe”. This is a film which has a very “Mud” feel to it. And though I wasn’t as big of a fan of 2012’s “Mud” as the rest of the world seemed to be, I can appreciate Green’s ability to construct a distinctively naturalistic atmosphere, full of so much grit that (while watching) I felt as if I had dirt under my own finger nails. That said, it is the performance of Tye Sheridan (who at such a young age can critically do no wrong) and a few notable bit players that kept my interest.

If anything the most standout performance within this performance driven drama is that of Gary Poulter, who makes his feature acting debut in “Joe”. In some inspired piece of casting, Poulter, who was actually homeless when cast, plays the part of the kid’s abusive father and does a spectacular job in this pivotal and emotionally jarring role. Tragically (according to the IMDB trivia page) Poulter “died on the streets of Austin a couple of months after filming stopped.”

At its heart “Joe” is a story about father/son bonds. But adapted from a Larry Brown novel, it does seem as if a lot of valuable back-story was left on the cutting room floor. The script is definitely flawed. The dialogue, I had no problem with. Much of the more conversational dialogue seems ad-libbed, which in this case added to that gritty feel I spoke of earlier. Green’s direction fulfills its intentions and the actors do everything in their power to elevate the content. But due to lack luster plot development, a second act driven by an antagonist with no motive and character development which sees Joe suddenly develop bipolar mood swings half way through the film, “Joe” gradually loses its way, culminating in a climax which is shrug inducing at best.

Final Thought: Nearly every critique I’ve read so far has proclaimed the high point of “Joe” to be the standout performance of Nicolas Cage. I would even go so far as to say that I was bamboozled into watching this movie because of said enthusiastic reviews. But after taking careful note of his performance, here are my thoughts: Cage gives a watchable lead performance (nothing spectacular). But next to movies like “Stolen”, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, “Trespass”, “Drive Angry”, “Season of the Witch”, “Knowing”, “Bangkok Dangerous”, “Next”, “Ghost Rider” and “The Wicker Man” remake, the argument can be made that Cage gives a performance which rivals the beginning of the McConaissance; even though more likely than not “Joe” is the beginning of nothing, and more of a respite between crappy movies.

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