(l-r) Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan
By Darlene Donloe
Academy Award® winning actor Nicolas Cage has played everything from a drunk, to an angel to a treasure hunter and almost everything in between. In his latest movie, Joe, he plays an ex-con whose life takes a turn when he befriends a young man in a tough, poor rural Mississippi community.
Adapted by screenwriter Gary Hawkins from Larry Brown’s 1991 novel, Joe is a disturbing, violent, character study set in the contemporary South.
A man trying to set his life right, Joe, a supervisor of a blue-collar work crew, finds himself constantly challenged to stay on the straight and narrow after he’s goaded on almost a daily basis by the town antagonist. If that were not enough, he also has a run-in with the drunken, abusive father of a teen, who happens to be one his new employees. The hard-luck teen named Gary is played by Tye Sheridan (Mud, Tree of Life) with flair.
Gary is affable, he likes to work and he’s hungry to move on with his life. And, most of all, he yearns for the love of his father, Wade, played by Gary Poulter.
Joe and Gary have a powerful relationship and a genuine affection for each other. Although Gary’s home life is horrible, Joe provides him with hope.
Joe, who is teetering as he attempts to walk the line, is something else. He lives his life hard. A man who served time after assaulting a police officer, he drinks way too much, he enjoys the occasional services of a prostitute, he gambles, he has a really mean bulldog.
Still, Joe is a good guy who has an edge. Underneath his conflicted exterior is a man with a heart of gold, who loves to help. Joe is a decent man.
Directed by David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche, Pineapple Express, Undertow, All The Real Girls), this is a gripping, uneasy story that feels humid, sweaty and dirty. It’s an intense, complicated story.
Green takes his time unwrapping the story. It’s slow, but steady with a hard, but somewhat appropriate payoff.
An unlikely star, Poulter is eerily outstanding as an old drunk who has no regard for life or anyone in it. He would sell his grandmother for a drink of alcohol. Wade is so disgusting it’s sometimes too much to take. Poulter is not a trained actor. In fact, he reportedly was a real drunk who was tapped to play the role. Reportedly, he died three weeks after the film’s completion.
A refreshing Sheridan is a quiet actor whose unassuming performance shines bright. There are several moments in the film when his silence and quiet power speaks volumes.
This is one of Cage’s best performances. A haggard beard, and covered in tattoos, Cage peels back the layers on his character, revealing an intensity that is unrefined.
The cast includes a mix of indie actors and non-actors from the streets of Austin, Texas. It all makes for a fascinating film.
Joe, directed by David Gordon Green, stars Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Gary Poulter, Sue Rock and Adriene Mishler.
On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Joe gets an E (excellent).
Running time: 117 minutes.