Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Disturbing Material, Language and some Strong Sexual Content
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Gary Hawkins
(based on the novel JOE by Larry Brown)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Heather Kafka, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Sue Rock, Adriene Mishler & Gary Poulter
Nicolas Cage has appeared in so many B-movies and hammy roles in the past two decades, that it has become damn near impossible to get someone to discuss him as a serious actor. Given the right role, Nic Cage can soar. That’s been seen in plenty of underappreciated films that feature strong performances from him (e.g. 8MM or LORD OF WAR). As JOE, Cage has proven every one of his naysayers wrong and shown that this quirky actor isn’t completely washed up. JOE is a dark film that combines a coming-of-age story with a crime drama. It’s an interesting mix that makes for one intense viewing experience. I didn’t expect things to end up as far into disturbing territory as they wind up going. In fact, I originally was likening JOE to MUD with Cage replacing McConaughey’s role. I wasn’t even in the same ballpark. This is one hell of a great film that is a tad predictable, but winds up being immensely satisfying and fresh in every area.
Joe is an ex-con and head of a rough-around-the-edges group in a landscaping job. It’s hard work, but he’s pays well and tells it like he sees it. Joe tries not to sink back into his old criminal ways, but when some dirtbags come to his town it’s becoming more difficult to refrain from beating the life from these punks. It is at this difficult time in Joe’s life that he meets the teenage Gary. Gary’s living situation is less than ideal. He’s essentially the man of the house and his abusive alcoholic father takes out druken rages on the him every night. Joe and Gary become the most unlikely friends. As problems in both of their lives come to a crossroads, life-changing decisions must be made.
There’s a thick dirty atmosphere covering JOE. This feeling immerses the viewer in the story’s backwoods setting. Every character felt authentic. This can especially be applied to the two leading men with quite the age gap between them. Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years as Joe and brings to life a man whom you might initially find hard to root for. Joe has a very dark side that comes out here and there. Some may say that he stretches the lines of common decency beyond a breaking point (one scene involving a dog comes to mind), but there’s still an endearing good quality about him. This is brought out in the chemistry between Cage and young Tye Sheridan (previously seen in last year’s MUD). Sheridan basically reprises the same kind of character he had in that 2013 coming-of-age tale, but does it in a far different way. This version is more mature than his previous role (helped by the fact that Sheridan looks older as well) and beset with some heavy problems for coming-of-age movie.
Speaking of which, this movie is dark! It’s downright disturbing in a couple of areas. Without flaunting a ton of twisted deeds happening, small details that imply what’s going on and make it so upsetting to watch. As Joe and Gary are characters that I wound up rooting for, nearly everyone around them is either a shell of a person or a completely wicked individual that deserves some sort of comeuppance. This all being said, the formula of JOE is a predictable one. I had an idea of where things where heading from the opening scenes. However, the writing and characters really hammer this one to being a hugely successful piece of cinema. It’s an absolute winner, even with the familiarity included in the mix.
I wouldn’t say JOE is for everybody, as the material can be very upsetting to watch at points. However, if you’re in the mood for a powerful drama that takes a look on an uglier side of life, then this will do the trick just fine. See it, if not only for the stellar performances by Cage and Sheridan as the leads. Special mention to the late Gary Poulter (an actual alcoholic homeless man hired to play the drunkard father) for being someone you just wanted to jump through the screen and murder. These are his 15 minutes of fame and he earned it for a brilliant portrayal of a truly despicable man. The conclusion may be guessed from the beginning, but it doesn’t lessen the impact and emotions that the film hits you with. JOE comes highly recommended!