David Gordon Greenís Joe is the directorís return to his low-budget roots after a stint whipping up big-budget, pot-laced Hollywood comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness. While the movie certainly has the Terrence Malick-like feel of Greenís earlier films, the biggest revelation here is a remarkable performance from Nicolas Cage, who does his best work in nearly a decade as the title character.
The protagonist is actually Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old boy whose physically abusive father Wade (Gary Poulter) is incapable of doing much other than drinking and smacking his family around. Gary understands that he needs to make some money for his mother, and talks his way into a job on a tree-clearing crew run by Joe (Cage). Joe quickly surmises that Gary is a hard worker with a terrible dad, and not only gives the kid a steady paycheck, but ends up becoming something of a father figure to him.
Joe, however, is far from flawless. He has a hair-trigger temper that has landed him in jail in the past. In addition, he has become embroiled in a feud with a psychotic local man; after being humiliated by Joe in a bar fight, the man plots with Wade, whoís upset over his sonís new friendship, to exact lethal revenge.
While Gary Hawkinsí script, adapted from a book by Larry Brown, serves up a rock-solid story, the movie is a triumph of atmosphere and mood. Green makes sure we never forget that weíre in rural Texas, a place that seems to have more in common with the Old West than with modern civilization. At almost every moment, there is the unshakable feeling that violence is imminent. From Wadeís outbursts to Joeís barely controlled fury to one of the most savage onscreen beatings in recent memory, the movie is full of brutality, yet itís presented in a way that lets you know that such events are inevitable in this hardscrabble world. Violence is a fact of life, not something thatís celebrated or relished. In this difficult environment, Gary proves himself to be smarter than those around him, and in Joe he finds a guide who will help him navigate this dangerous reality.
Even in his younger days, Nicolas Cage was the kind of actor who didnít inhabit a role so much as compulsively stretch his characters to the breaking point. Heís always been less interested in discipline than he is in extremes, and here heís playing a real person who understands that his occasionally uncontrollable temper will be his downfall. After spending most of the last ten years exaggerating every gesture, thereís a poetic rightness to him playing this type of person at this point in his career. David Gordon Green deserves some of the credit for exquisite casting, but Cage astonishes by dropping any hint of mugging or vamping here. He still gets to go unhinged, but this time around it doesnít feel like the actor trying to keep himself and/or the audience interested, but the behavior of a three-dimensional character whose faults are too near the surface for his own good.
Itís hard to say why heís so much more in command with this performance. Maybe, as with his supporting turn in Kick-Ass, he knew to underplay when working with a child actor. Or perhaps his conception of the character just clicked with Greenís brutal yet beautiful aesthetic. Whatever it was, the end result is a vital and vibrant work that reestablishes both Green and Cage as artists capable of returning to their peaks.
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- Released: 2013
- Rating: R
- Review: David Gordon Greenís Joe is the directorís return to his low-budget roots after a stint whipping up big-budget, pot-laced Hollywood comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness. While the movie certainly has the Terrence Malick-like feel of Greenís ea… (more)