Review – Joe


Joe – More for fans of Leaving Las Vegas Nicholas Cage, rather than The Wicker Man Nicholas Cage.

Life in the deep south of America is hard for the heavy drinking Joe (Nicholas Cage), a man trying to make a living undertaking illegal forest clearance. Meanwhile, a new family moves into a derelict house in the town. Their son Gary (Tye Sheridan) seeks out work with Joe and his crew. Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary’s Father and a destructive alcoholic, forces Gary into a life of working to protect his family from all but himself. This leaves Joe with a dangerous decision, to ignore his instinct for trouble or to help a new friend…

This feature, based on the novel by Larry Brown, depicts a beautiful contrast between the stunning visual scenery and the dark foreboding troubles of many locals. Director David Green (Shotgun Stories, George Washington) has again captured the emotion of the “average” man, whilst simultaneously delving deep into the world of substance abuse and the wedge it inevitably drives between families and friends. Green explores how making ends meet in the South can lead some to follow dubious moral paths and others to more enlightened, almost noble goals. These two opposing ideas are personified in the two main characters of Joe and Gary. Joe, a man who has been willing to cross the law and Gary, who shows his determination to work hard and earn money to protect his family.

Nicolas Cage puts in an impressive performance reminiscent (all be it far darker) of his lead in the Cohen Brothers’ Raising Arizona. He seems to have an affinity for playing the role of the troubled, poor, Southern man. The usual Cage-isms are kept to a minimum and his tendency for an over the top outburst fit perfectly with the character at hand. For me, this is one of Cage’s best performances of his career; not your classic rough diamond character but something far more nuanced.  Whilst Cage is the stand out performer, Tye Sheriden brilliantly portrays a boy with troubles weighing heavily on his shoulders. Desensitised to the violence at home, Sheriden strikes the balance between (perhaps misplaced) family loyalty and the conflicting joy of working for a caring surrogate father figure. In many senses this film is locked in reality with non-professional actors such as Gary Poulter, playing Wade – an abusive alcoholic, to perfection.

But it isn’t all perfect: Some elements of the film, notably Cage’s local nemesis, left a lot to be desired. The role becomes a caricature and plot device to almost force the film to a close. This adversary feels almost crow-barred into what would have been a beautiful tale of struggle and redemption. However, there are so many rich characters elsewhere in the film I found this easy to overlook; interesting and unusual locations coupled with attention to lighting details and mood meant this filmed grabbed my attention. I got sucked into the trouble brewing in this small town.

Just two months after the movie’s completion some upsetting news came to light. Gary Poulter was found dead in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. Gary was homeless, living on the streets of Austin, Texas when a casting director persuaded him to audition for the part of the alcoholic Father. Despite Poulter’s troubles, director David Green saw something in him that stirred his imagination: “He just had this personality and charisma that you can’t find, that you can’t access with an actor who hasn’t lived it. There’s a look in his eye and a texture of his skin, and he’s missing half an ear. There’s just some beautiful qualities in him that for our purposes, brought out an authenticity of the role.” His stellar performance in this film may possibly go down as one of the greatest cameo careers Hollywood will ever see.

The films distributors, Lionsgate, decided to release the film across multiple platforms simultaneously. The film is to be released over the course of six months globally, with each country’s release date coming to both cinema and on-demand pay-per-view services, (the film saw the light of day in the UK some three months after the original US release date). The advantage of this type of distribution is that movie-watching public has the choice of a “night out at the flicks”, or being able to watch from the comfort of their armchair. This bold move by the distributors is probably a reaction to the music business, where digital formats have quickly overtaken the physical format as the go to choice for the modern age. One downside to this staggered distribution, however, is the low figures the film receives at the box office. Costing an estimated $4,000,000 to make, the film only took $105,881 on its opening weekend in the States. This is truly an impressive film, and hopefully one that will gain the kind of status it deserves. Even if that is only “cult film” status.

Author – Ben, Bournemouth store