Director: David Gordon Green
I just can’t stand Nicolas Cage. I’ve begrudgingly liked him in a few movies: Raising Arizona, Face/Off, National Treasure. But for the most part, I just hate the guy. He’s a mediocre actor who picks terrible movies, an over-the-top and yet somehow underwhelming presence that can’t help but annoy me. Maybe it’s the late 90s/early 2000s that cemented my distaste for him. The Rock, Con Air, City of Angels, Snake Eyes, 8MM, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Family Man, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Windtalkers; these are some awful films, many of which Cage is supposed to be a badass in, something I have just never been able to see. Why did I give Joe a chance then? Because of Tye Sheridan, someone I’ll talk a little more about at the end of this review. But I guess it’s lucky that I gave this movie a shot, because, until now, Adaptation was the only Cage project that I could point to and say that he actually impressed me. Now I guess I’ll have to add Joe to that very short list.
Here is a cast of characters that are about as down-country as you are ever likely to see. Joe is a good man with a rough edge, a hard worker but someone who has fits of temper and has found himself in big trouble before. Gary is a boy with problems, a drifter who only wants to get a job, make some money, and take care of his sister. Wade is Gary’s father, a drunk and an abuser, a good-for-nothing if ever there was one. Willie is a psychopath, a man who fears nothing because he’s too crazy to understand danger, a guy who’s got a grudge against Joe. When all these men cross paths in a small town, blood will be shed. Joe can’t get into any more trouble or he’ll be put away for a while. Gary can’t take any more abuse or he’s going to snap. Wade resents the relationship that his son is beginning to form with his employer. And Willie is just insane enough to set a spark to the whole explosive lot.
Nicolas Cage, bless his heart, what a tool. He just can’t escape the terrible movies of his past and will never be an A-class actor in my book, but he does bring everything he’s got to the role of Joe, and succeeds in pulling off the second best performance I’ve ever seen from him. I guess this movie just fit him, because he never felt like he was pretending, something I’m all too aware of in his other films. Give director David Gordon Green credit for creating one of the most believable movie atmospheres that you’ll ever see, from Joe’s work crew to his favorite whore house, from the country store to everyone’s love of trucks. Green actually cast a homeless man as Wade, Gary Poulter, and it could not have worked more perfectly. Poulter would actually be found dead after the movie was finished, adding to the understanding that this film was painting a picture of how life can really be at its extremity. I can’t forget to mention Tye Sheridan, a boy who blew me away in Mud and will be portraying a young Cyclops in the new X-Men movie in 2016. He’s a rare natural talent who we’ll soon see as a Hollywood big name. Joe was, taken as a whole, a solid movie with a simple plot. It showed the darker side of humanity well, using the boondocks as a phenomenal setting, and showcasing a talent level that just might shock you.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆