Directed by David Gordon Green, Joe tells the story of a young boy named Gary who strikes a bond with a lumberjack named Joe to help provide for his unwell family.
Before Green went onto helm Halloween (2018), he made this sorely underrated rural drama. Despite a couple of pacing issues and an occasionally uneven flow, the magnitude of immersion you’ll find in this movies backdrop and characters will leave you floored. This movie is stylishly minimal but substantially weighty in large part thanks to the cast, soundtrack and direction.
This is the third Nicolas Cage movie I’ve written about in the last month and, while my love for the man is transparent, I have no problem discerning where he goes wrong, but I also know a reverent performance when I see one. Joe is one of them.
Cage completely strips himself of his idiosyncratic mannerisms and the performance shown is one of quiet authenticity. Joe is an incredibly complex character, his time spent in prison serving as the catalyst of his restraint towards anger and violence.
He knows what he has to do in order to stay out of the firing line but the individuals inhabiting this films setting slowly gnaws away at him throughout. In particular, this is seen with the egregious Ronnie Gene Blevins as Willie Russell and Gary’s punitive father Wade in an unprecedented ‘one-shot’ performance by Gary Poulter.
This man was a real-life homeless person who died shortly after filming; it’s honestly staggering, the amount of vile tension he was able to conjure up. He’s an intimidatingly despicable character who staunchly conduced to the film's dramatic core.
Tye Sheridan is also phenomenal as Gary who has a strongly amiable diligence in him that makes him easy to root for.
The rural, small-town backdrop is deftly presented. But it’s also one that feels relentlessly despondent and bleak. Make no mistake, levity is extremely difficult to find here but it also fleshes out this film's social reality. Where violence, prostitution, alcohol and abuse become staples of these peoples’ lives.
That’s what makes Joe and Gary such interesting characters, to have them juxtaposed against an environment that is so beneath them and having a hard time resisting it is the primary ‘push and pull’ dynamic it creates within. You feel the plight of their situation and you want to see lighter moments between the two.
The scenes with them bonding brought a fresh release from the panoramically unsafe backdrop and is ultimately what elicits that feeling of realism; I’d have liked it less if it didn’t have that.
The movie sometimes reaches too high too soon with the drama in the first half, which disjoints its flux just a little bit, but I found Joe to be a compelling piece of storytelling with a career best performance by Cage.
Visually despondent with visceral tendencies, it’s an easy recommendation if you’re a fan of Nicolas Cage.
Written by Seán Mac G.