Director: David Gordon Green
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse: 7.5/10
The most burning question people have before seeing David Gordon Green’s Joe is if this is a return to form for Nicolas Cage. With an emphatic “yes” I can attest that this is Cage at his absolute best. He’s still crazy Nic Cage, but in a much more subdued and earnest way. Cage’s performance however, is not the only highlight of this film, as it excels on nearly every level. Many will criticize this film for being too close in plot to Jeff Nichols’ Mud, and there are certainly similarities, but in many ways Joe outshines it in both the story and the visuals.
Cage stars as the titular character of Joe, an ex-con trying to stay on the right side of the law by managing a crew of workman tasked with poisoning trees in order to clear them out. After meeting Gary (Tye Sheridan), a young teenager plagued with family issues, Joe takes the boy under his wing by giving him a job and some guidance. Clashes with Gary’s useless drunk of a father and a twisted pedophile with a vendetta begin to escalate and Joe must protect Gary by risking his freedom and his life.
For anyone that’s seen George Washington, the brilliant feature debut from David Gordon Green, you’ll find yourself in familiar visual territory here. Green captures the rural south with style and grace, showing beauty in decay and depravity. Everything from the framing to the smartly used slow motion shots complimented the film perfectly. The slow motion was still more effective in George Washington, but it still worked.
Nicolas Cage has proven himself to be an award-worthy actor in the past and Tye Sheridan has a promising career ahead of him with both The Tree of Life and Mud under his belt, but it was some of the supporting roles that proved to be surprising standouts. Green used non-actors to fill many of the roles, all of which were expertly done. Gary’s father is such a perfectly despicable bastard and the performance is so natural and realistic it’s almost too real. Of course, having these extremely organic performances make the acted ones seem to feel odd, but it’s barely noticeable and shouldn’t be considered a flaw.
Explosions in the Sky lend their talents once again on the soundtrack, which is more subtle than their last collaboration with Green in Prince Avalanche. The score is moody and tense, much like the overall tone of the film itself. It feels like at any moment something is about to blow up and become out of control.
Among the brutality of the film, which has spurts of extreme violence and some downright terrifying situations, is a smattering of smartly crafted comedic bits. Joe’s work crew is hilarious and Joe himself spouts of some incredibly funny dialogue. These small, but effective pieces of humor are exactly what a film like this needs to help lighten the mood, if only for a second.
Joe is another home run for David Gordon Green and hopefully a well-deserved comeback for Nicolas Cage. It’s unfortunate that this came out so closely after Mud however, as it seems that it will remain in its shadow.