Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Adriene Mishler, Brian Mays
Written by: Gary Hawkins and (based on the novel) Larry Brown
Running Time: 117 mins
Release date: 25th July 2014
Having sold his soul to Hollywood, director David Gordon Green, who had started life as an independent film maker, working on edgy dramas, when over to the dark side to continue his directing with films like Pineapple Express, Your Majesty and The Sitter. Thankfully, with Joe, he has returned to his roots and produced a brooding and often violent tale which, not only is a powerful and unsettling tale but gives Nicolas Cage the best role he has had in years.
Joe is an ex-con working as a contractor who poisons trees in order to have them removed by the land owners. Along with a team of workers, spirits are always high and a respect for Joe is constantly due. Then Gary enters into the picture. A young boy, desperate to raise some money for his mother and mute sister, as well as his hopeless drunk of a father. Joe takes the boy under his wing and offers a chance to make things better for his family, yet Gary’s father poses a threat and Joe, troubled as he is, finds it hard to control his temper when it comes to protecting those he feels are wronged.
This is an uncomfortable watch. Gordon Green manages to capture a constant air of dread throughout the film. It’s there in the background all the time, this untapped level of violence that could explode (and often does) without any obvious notice. So as a viewer, you are on edge all the time. A neat trick from the director and script writer Gary Hawkins, taking the tale from the source material of Larry Brown’s book.
It also doesn’t follow the usual conventions of storytelling, instead giving us a rich tapestry of characters, all of whom seem troubled, who we watch to see what they are going to surprise us with. These are not intellectuals, or great thinkers of our time. They are people trying to survive one way or another but have to cope with their own demons, whether it be their past, their family or their habits.
Joe, as a character, is somewhat ambiguous. We are not told a great deal about his past or the reasonings for his sometimes violent actions. This is a man who works, drinks, has a dubious opinion of women and a dog who is as violent and on edge as he is. In the years, he has grown a certain amount of respectability from the local community but as soon as Gary enters into his world and he can see similarities to his own upbringing, then a darkness inside starts to grow.
Gary, on the other hand, has had to use violence to stand up for himself and protect the ones he loves and even though still a young man, he has had to cope with a world of pain, mainly because of his father. yet he looks up to Joe as a father he never had; one who works hard and is liked whereas his own father will use his fists to do the talking and, in one horrific scene, a large metal bolt.
What Gordon Green has managed to do is tame Nicolas Cage. As the title character, gone are the crazy eyes for which Cage is so often known for and a more subtle, controlled Cage is in its place. Having to play such a dark person, Cage brings out some suitable quiet moments that work and although he is allowed to go a little crazy, it’s more refined than usual. It’s a winning performance and probably his best since Leaving Las Vegas.
Tye Sheridan, as the young Gary, is superb, a man who you emote with throughout, even though he struggles to know right from wrong. It’s a solid performance and he is certainly one to watch. Gary Poluter, however, is a revelation, a truly horrific being who doesn’t win over any sympathy whatsoever. It’s a pitch perfect performance.
Joe isn’t a film you can recommend if you are looking for something light. It doesn’t hold any punches, the characters are hardly likeable and some of the scenes will turn your stomach. It is, however, a powerful and brave film and a return to form for both its director and star and I am sure, one that will stay in the memory long after it has finished.