After bizarre comedies, director David Gordon Green has returned to form with simpler, dramatic stories in southern, small towns. An adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel, “Joe” is a story of hope in a region that breeds violence and drunkenness.
A lonely local, Joe (Nicolas Cage) organizes a work team to poison trees to be cleared to make room for new growth. Respected and acknowledged by much of the community, from the local grocer to the police and the local brothel, Joe only feuds with another pub frequenter (Ronnie Gene Blevins). When a homeless family squats in a condemned building, it is up to the father, Wade (Gary Poulter), and teenage son Gary (Tye Sheridan) to provide for the family. Wade will do anything for alcohol except work for it, so Gary finds himself being the sole provider for his mother and sister, though Wade beats him and steals his earnings. Joe attempts to salvage Gary’s innocence from the savage, dark terrain by taking him under his wing despite his own turbulent soul.
Joe, Wade, and the villainous Willie-Russell (Blevins) all have the same baser drives, but it is Joe’s attempt at restraint that sets him apart. His realization that he can’t change is what motivates him to save Gary, a boy heading in the same direction as these uncontrolled men. This hope for the younger generation is a profound yet uncomplicated story, but the climax relies on despicable, absurd evils to elevate the immorality of the villains. The only real flaw of “Joe” is about ten minutes of extreme actions to unnecessarily heighten the hatred of the “bad guys.”
The portrayals of these men are the greatest strength of “Joe.” Though he never quite reaches a point in which he is believable as a Southern, lower class man, Nicolas Cage gives one of his best performances, certainly his most respectable performance in roughly a decade. Tye Sheridan charms and is sure to earn a career after success with “Joe” and “Mud.” But Gary Poulter steals the audience’s attention with his gnarled and gritty performance.
For audiences that enjoyed films such as “Winter’s Bone” and “Mud,” “Joe” is a film worth recommending at this lull before the major push of blockbuster action.
Rating for “Joe:” B
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Joe” is not playing in Columbus but is available for rent on Amazon Instant Video.