Directed by David Gordon Green, Joe tells the story of the friendship between ex-con Joe (Nicolas Cage) and teenage drifter Gary (Tye Sheridan).
Directed by David Gordon Green, Joe tells the story of the friendship between ex-con Joe (Nicolas Cage) and teenage drifter Gary (Tye Sheridan). The film offers an interesting look into the life in rural Southern America, and while it can feel heavy handed at times it’s still an enjoyable experience.
Living a ‘normal’ life is a daily struggle
Joe runs an illegal logging crew in the Mississippi backwoods, and is one day approached by Gary who is looking for work. Gary is a hard worker, using his earnings to support his itinerant family, and the two soon become firm friends.
When Joe learns of Gary’s beatings at the hands of his alcoholic father Wade (Gary Poulter), he is reluctant to intervene as another violent incident would land him back in prison. Joe has a volatile temper which he barely keeps under control, and living a “normal” life is a daily struggle.
An escalating feud with local scumbag Willie-Russel (Ronnie Gene Blevins) doesn’t make Joe’s life any easier for him, and a showdown seems inevitable.
An unusual performance
Cage plays the role with a level of restraint that is unusual; given his propensity for overacting (for anyone not familiar with his onscreen freak-outs, a quick YouTube search should bring you up to speed) It’s a solid performance, certainly one of his best in a long time. A few moments come across as hammy, but considering his track record it’s a welcome change.
A standout supporting cast
The real standouts, however, are the supporting cast. Sheridan’s portrayal of a teenager forced to be responsible for his parents is nuanced and powerful, full of innocence and anger in equal mix. Joe sees some of himself in Gary, particularly his temper, and is determined to somehow give him a better chance at life than he had.
Gary Poulter is excellent, his performance being all the more incredible considering his own history. Poulter was homeless when he was scouted for the film, and was offered a minor part. After an impressive audition for he was offered the larger part, on the condition that he stayed sober for the duration of the shoot. Able to inspire pity or fear with just a look, he creates a villain with a rare level of humanity.
Much of the cast are non-professional actors, bringing a rich vein of quirky realism to the story, and Joe’s interactions with various locals are some of the most enjoyable scenes. The dialogue flows effortlessly, with some scenes almost needing subtitles the conversation is so natural.
Mississippi itself is given plenty of screen time, the dilapidated buildings and overgrown setting evoking a type of sad beauty reminiscent of Winter’s Bone (2010). The context is vital to explaining the characters and their choices, or lack thereof; the unforgiving environment breeding resilient people.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable film. Admittedly, it feels overly dramatic at some points, with some speeches or shots feeling conspicuous. The performances from Sheridan, Poulter and the supporting cast help greatly in grounding the film, giving some much needed humanity to a classic story.
Kettle Rating: 3/5
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