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Review: David Gordon Green returns to gritty Southern drama with Nic Cage & JOE

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Much has been written about director David Gordon Green’s near-baffling duality as a filmmaker. Green started off in the early 2000s with a string of acclaimed indie dramas like George Washington, All the Real Girls, and Snow Angels. Then came an abrupt shift to studio-backed broad comedies with depreciating results – Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter. So for most, last year’s inexplicably overlooked Prince Avalanche was a welcome return to Green’s indie roots and top form. With his latest film, Green thankfully stays in that more acclaimed, low-key indie mode and returns even more to his gritty Southern roots.

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Joe is a sweat-stained, blood-soaked drama filled with growling dogs and hard-drinking. Played by a subdued, yet intense Nicholas Cage, Joe is a loner ex-con and the unlikeliest of role models to an earnest 15-year-old boy. As he takes the troubled boy under his wing, Joe is soon faced with the choice of redemption or ruin as the tension escalates from all sides.

Thankfully, this is not your everyday Nicholas Cage, but rather the once-a-decade Cage, when he chooses movies not for the paycheck, but for the character. With all the National Treasures, Ghost Riders, and other movies no one remembers, people forget that Cage is actually a terrific actor. But as he is apt to prove on occasion, Cage delivers a lean, brooding performance in Joe free of overt craziness (for the most part). Like Cage, who must work hard to keep his trademark over-the-top madness in check, Joe has a dark past and dangerous temper boiling just below the surface. He struggles with it until pushed to breaking point when everything begins to close in on him.

Starring alongside Cage is fast-rising young star Tye Sheridan, who in just his third film (Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life and Jeff Nichols’ Mud the others) has already made a significant impression on Hollywood. Still relatively new in the business, Sheridan still has that delicate authenticity most child actors lose fairly quickly. It is no coincidence that Sheridan has played an outdoorsy, coming-of-age Southern boy in all three of his roles so far, because that is exactly who he is, and he plays it flawlessly. It will be interesting to see how his career develops and diversifies, but for now he is the quintessential troubled country boy – a modern day Huckleberry Finn, complete with quiet intensity, teenage angst, and a wealth of emotional baggage.

Other than Cage and Sheridan, Joe’s cast is populated with a host of non-actors compromised mostly of locals around the set, something Green commonly does in his indie projects. This again leads to that elusive authenticity most filmmakers strive for, especially in a low-key, slice-of-life drama like this. One worth mentioning is Gary Poulter, who plays the young boy’s scraggly, alcoholic, and abusive father. A homeless street performer, Poulter delivers an incredibly jarring, unpredictable, and monstrous performance, only made more prominent by the man’s own real-life struggle with alcoholism and untimely death just before the film was released.

As previously mentioned, Joe is a welcome return to gritty Southern realism, a popular indie drama sub-genre, for David Gordon Green. His affinity for and personal connection to the region shines through in his films. On the whole, the film is fairly simple and straight-forward story – a powerful character study carried by the stellar acting, moody tone, and rich images (thanks to Green’s longtime cinematographer, Tim Orr).

* * * * out of 5 stars

Joe opens Friday, May 16 at Chalmette Movies. The film screens at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. daily.

So come out and support Chalmette Movies (8700 W. Judge Perez Dr.) by catching this new film, so that the theater can continue bringing interesting films like these to the New Orleans-area. Also, visit the theater’s website for more information, directions, showtimes, and ticket prices.


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