Joe (2013) – Review

Nicholas Cage’s movie career is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. I have said on more than one occasion that Cage is an excellent actor but sometimes makes spectacularly bad choices. If you check out his CV, there are pearls there, to be sure, but for every one of those, there’s at least half a dozen Ghost Rider sequels that could potentially queer his pitch.

Not quite yet in the market for that word I won’t mention that Matthew McConnaughey has just been through, coming out gleaming at the other end, Cage’s reputation was never quite so horrifying. Nevertheless, it must be said that he is due a surge of credibility and Joe just might be the vehicle to provide it.Garry Hawkins adapted screenplay of Larry Brown’s original novel is a headstrong, confrontational affair. For the most part, as director David Gordon Green is prone to do, the acting is provided by amateurs, locals of the area in question. With two notable exceptions, being Cage himself and Tye Sheridan, who some will recognise from Mud, starring the aformentioned McConnaughey.

As is the case with Mud, this is a slow, deep burn, Southern style. The mood of the piece is always teeterting on the edge of violence and the tone often refelcts that fact, but the feel of the South, with its languid, humid approach to hospitality and spirit are clearly evident in the excellent and simple script, not to mention the outstanding cinematography.

The titular Joe (Cage) is an ex-con running an apparently semi-legitimate contract for an unnamed company, tasked with the ritual poisoning of the local trees, in order to make way for new, more profitable replacements. He has a crew of genuine, hard-working men that he picks up in his truck every morning and pays them in cash every friday. He too is seemingly honest, hard-working and like all good Southern folk we ever get to meet on screen, he calls a pitchfork just what it is. He drinks hard, likes a good hooker and has a big, mean American Bull Terrier that goes by the name of ‘Dog’. Everything about him screams gentle giant. Yet cross him and you will regret it. Notorious in town as employer and trusted friend to many, he is both respected and feared by most, but importantly not by all.

When a new family rolls up and takes residence in an old condemned house, the son, Gary, (Sheridan), a fifteen-year-old with such an admirable level responsibility for one so young, that his drunk of a father (Gary Poulter) could only ever dream of having as much, turns up on the site of Joe’s daily grind, looking for work for both hmself and his father. It is at this point that the story really begins, with the start of an emotional bond created between Joe and Gary. Joe provides work for the boy on the day and the following monday, his father is also hired, but not for long. His alcoholism and general attitude mean that his employment is cut short pretty quickly.

Not exactly the best example of parenting, Gary’s father beats his children and generally keeps his family in fear of him, despite apparently having no redeeming qualities of his own to speak of. His mental and physical abuse of his family is to worsen over the course of the film and by the final act, we see what this thing that passes for human is really prepared to do to get what he wants. Played excellently by Gary Poulter, it is a grave shame that he passed away before getting the chance to make something of his own. Like much of the cast, as mentioned, he was cast for the role as Gery’s father because he lived in the area, already homeless and destitute. Seemingly, working with Hollywood royalty was not enough to save him from an untimely end, which seems like a terrible waste for the rest of us.

As Gary and Joe spend more time together, the evidence of the abuse from which Gary suffers becomes hard for Joe to ignore and like any loyal, trusted friend, Joe wants nothing more than to protect the boy, much as would expect any normal father to do, in fact.

Dark on occasion, but steeped in Green’s usual sense of hyper-realism, Joe is a gripping drama that will entertain and horrify in equal measure throughout its near two-hour running time. The performance from Cage is outstanding and it makes you wonder, once again, why he bothers with the likes of Trespass when he has the talent to offer something as impressive as this. Sheridan is less challenged here, giving a similar performance as provided in Mud, but nonetheless proves that he is a talent to look out for in the future, once again.

Highly recommended for performance, direction, scripting and cinematography. When it comes to the UK in July of this year, make sure you get to see it as it is definitely worth your time.

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