Synopsis: A gripping mix of friendship, violence and redemption erupts in the contemporary South in this adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel, celebrated at once for its grit and its deeply moving core. Directed by David Gordon Green, Joe film brings Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage back to his indie roots in the title role as the hard-living, hot-tempered, ex-con Joe Ransom, who is just trying to dodge his instincts for trouble – until he meets a hard-luck kid, (Mud‘s Tye Sheridan) who awakens in him a fierce and tender-hearted protector.
Release Date: April 11, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Nicolas Cage has become somewhat of a pop culture joke because of his questionable role choices. The public concentrates so much on his appearances in those silly Ghost Rider movies or that awful The Wicker Man remake that they forget that, when given a proper vehicle, the man can act. Cage has proven his talent over the years in films like Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas, and Wild at Heart, and he has finally found another chance to show off his chops in Joe.
Cage plays the title character in Joe, a troubled ex-con who owns a tree clearing business. One day while working with his crew in the woods, Joe is approached by a teenage boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan from Mud) who hits Joe up for a job for himself and his father. Joe puts the boy to work on the spot and is impressed enough to tell Gary to bring his father back with him the next day. Gary and his dad, the alcoholic Wade (first-time actor Gary Poulter), show up in the morning, but Wade is a lazy and dishonest worker, so Joe fires him. Taking pity on Gary after meeting Wade, Joe becomes the father figure that Gary needs. With Joe’s help, Gary learns to deal with his abusive father, while Joe confronts the demons, both internal and external, that still torment him.
The novel on which Joe is based was written by Larry Brown, one of the “grit lit” writers who traverses the same grindhouse narrative style as Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell. The book was adapted for the screen by screenwriter Gary Hawkins, himself no stranger to Brown’s work because of his documentary/short film collection “The Rough South of Larry Brown.” Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) injects a very real, improvised feel into Joe that is reminiscent of the films of Harmony Korine and Larry Clark.
The effect is a very visceral film that allows the audience to experience the story as if they were actually a part of it. Green crafts Hawkins’ script into a low key, understated backwoods tale that is both character and plot driven; it’s dependent on the individual performances of the actors, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all conversation and dialogue.
Although it may masquerade as a coming-of-age film on the surface, Joe is no Stand by Me. Joe is a great movie, but it’s a very difficult one to watch. The film is disturbingly violent, with scene after scene of fighting and bloodshed. In one scene, Wade beats a homeless man so badly that the viewer just wants to scream at him to stop already. In another scene, Joe brings a pit bull that lives under his house to a brothel that he frequents to fight with another dog, and the dogs tear each other apart. It’s all very unsettling, but it helps the film make its point; Joe is extremely memorable in many different ways.
From top to bottom, the acting in Joe is top-notch. Nicolas Cage seems to be completely in his comfort zone with the character of Joe. He and Tye Sheridan have great chemistry as well, really selling the surrogate father/big brother angle. Cage does have a few “Cagey” moments, but they are done with tongue firmly in cheek.
For example, in one scene Joe is teaching Gary how to make a “cool face,” telling him to imagine he’s in pain and to smile through it. Cage makes a face that is so classically typical of Nicolas Cage that one has to believe that he’s mocking himself, winking to the audience and letting them know that he’s aware of his corny reputation. In Joe, Nicolas Cage is great, even when he’s making fun of himself.
In an effort to add authenticity to his films, David Gordon Green will often cast locals in small roles, and he does the same with Joe. In Joe, however, he also rolled the dice and cast a homeless alcoholic man in the third lead; Gary Poulter was literally pulled off the street to play Wade, Gary’s father. Poulter knocks it out of the park. He plays the part with a frightening intensity and realism that makes it impossible for the audience to imagine anyone else in the role.
Sadly, Joe will be Poulter’s one and only film – he died a couple of weeks after production wrapped. It’s unfortunate that audiences will not get to see him fully realize his cinematic potential, but his performance in Joe is a pretty solid legacy to leave behind.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): David Gordon Green
- Screenwriter(s): Gary Hawkins
- Cast: Nicolas Cage (Joe), Tye Sheridan (Gary), Gary Poulter (Wade a.k.a. G-Daawg), Ronnie Gene Blevins (Willie-Russell), Adriene Mishler (Connie)
- Country Of Origin: USA