SXSW Film Review – Joe
We all know the Nicolas Cage memes and have seen the random photos of him looking disheveled out and about. The past few years have not brought Cage any critical acclaim or public fervor since 2010’s Kick-Ass. There is reason to be critical of going to a Nicolas Cage film, especially if you are forking over ten dollars for it. Things could turn around for Cage because of Joe.
Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Prince Avalanche) and based on the novel first published in 1991 by Larry Brown, Joe is the story of Joe (Nicolas Cage) and the relationship that develops between Joe and Gary (Tye Sheridan), an essentially homeless teenager with an abusive, alcoholic father who comes into town. Gary asks Joe for a job on his crew of men who poison trees so that they can legally be cut down. Gary is a hard-working teen determined to take care his family and make a better life for himself in spite of his father. Set in Texas and shot in Austin, the film has a Southern feel to it and shows what it is like to live in a small town that does not have much money.
Let’s just cut to the chase. Nicolas Cage’s performance in Joe is the best I have seen from him in years. Joe is an everyman, nothing extraordinary. He has been in jail, has at one point had a family, but he now lives alone with a dog chained up outside. He runs a decent business, employing those willing to work. He has some morals and can see in someone what they are capable of if they apply themselves. This is not a role that Cage had to get in shape for or be the most attractive guy. He fits into the role perfectly. You can see it in his performance the reluctance of Joe to get involved with Gary’s problems considering Joe has many of his own. While you can see that Cage plays the good guy, he still is able to hint at the underlying problems Joe has been dealing with. When he decides to let it all go and befriend Gary, there is a father figure in there and the ability to let go and have some fun with Gary.
Tye Sheridan (Mud) also puts in another great performance as Gary. His character is just as complex as Joe, but we are given more details about his life while we are left to guess about some elements in Joe’s life. The reason for his anger, strength, and determination are evident as he fights against what life has dealt him. To be able to act along with someone like Nicolas Cage is a feat in and of itself. Sheridan had to flip flop between a range of emotions depending on what other characters were in a scene. His demeanor when his father enters a scene is immediately felt.
Gary Poulter plays Gary’s father, Wade. He is the “villain” of the film and provides for much disgust felt by the audience. While watching Joe, I thought that whoever did makeup and hair on this actor was brilliant. It turns out that Poulter was a homeless man plucked from the streets of Austin, Texas to play this role. Sadly, he has since passed away, but his role definitely fit in with the background of experience he had with homelessness.
Director David Gordon Green chose not to expressly show every detail of Joe’s life. It is revealed a little at a time and sometimes just with a passing remark. There is one scene in which Joe is at a stoplight and a man and a woman in a jeep pull up next to him. Joe immediately recognizes the woman, and also the woman in return. The few seconds of glancing at each other reveal a relationship of some sort between them, but the audience is never told what it is. There are many moments like this in Joe that will keep you guessing as to how Joe ended up as a tough guy with a revealing soft spot.
Joe is an eye opener if you give it a chance. It is an unexpected film that has both dramatic and comedic moments that will certainly endear itself to the audience. Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan are also two more reasons to see it, and that is something I never thought I would ever write. If anything, the film is worth seeing just for one scene; Joe enters a house that has a deer strung up in the kitchen, a blind man sits in the corner, another man is slaughtering the deer, and the woman of the house is going on and on about the deer. The absurdity, hilariousness, and somewhat accurate depiction of the people of a Southern small town is just one of the scenes that you will always remember from Joe.