Rated – R
Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter
Sometimes I forget that Nicolas Cage can really act the hell out of a role. In Joe, he does exactly that. As the title character, Cage pours his heart into the character of an ex-con who supervises a tree-poisoning crew so a company can replace them with pines. Joe’s a straight up blue-collar man, but from what you see in the first ten minutes of the film he’s respected and he’s fair. We find out much later that’s he in fact quite dangerous.
Joe’s life is pretty simple. He works, eats, drinks, smokes, and occasionally visits his favorite prostitute. Then there’s a wrench thrown in his routine when a 15-year-old kid named Gary enters his life looking for a job. Joe allows him to join his crew and pays him for a day’s work. Why? He’s not quite sure, maybe there’s something in this kid that reminds him of a younger version of himself? Maybe he’s just being nice, but in any case he made the kid’s day. Gary couldn’t be any happier, that is until he returns to his broken home with an abusive, drunken father named Wade (Poulter).
In addition to these relationships, there is a man named Willie-Russell who is out for revenge against Joe, and eventually Gary. While the plot of the story is nothing new, the grittiness of the film is what makes it stand out from what you’re used to seeing. The movie captures the true atmosphere of the poor community in rural Texas. There are homeless people, drug and alcohol abuse, hookers, and dangerous labor work that stands as the driving force and the backdrop of the film. There is never a sense of safety in this setting. Shots are being fired at homes, dogs are violent, and threats are being made left and right.
You have to be tough to survive this place and Joe might be the toughest of them all. He’s had his problems with authority before but as the chief of the town puts it, he’s still constantly fist-fighting the law. Is Joe trying to prove something to himself? Is he trying to make a difference for the people he cares about? This is what makes Joe such a great lead character. We know just enough about him to care, but don’t exactly know enough to figure out how he’s going to face each dilemma that crosses his path. And even though Joe is a rugged son-of-a-bitch, we see the softer side to him when he becomes the father figure to Gary. During these scenes, we get some excellent chemistry between Cage and Sheridan.
While Cage and Sheridan receive the top billing in Joe, it’s really Gary Poulter as Wade who really impressed me the most. Watching the film you can’t help but believe he’s really as vicious, drunk, and homeless as the character depicts. I found out after some research that the thought wasn’t that far off-track. Gary Poulter was actually homeless when the casting directors found him. It’s a remarkable story that unfortunately ends tragically, read about it here (http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2014-04-11/his-name-was-gary-poulter/).
David Gordon Green’s adaptation is one full of the dirt and slime, with an array of dangerous characters from Joe – a man who is fighting the law as much as he’s fighting himself – and Wade – a selfish, abusive drunk whose disease overpowers his slimmer of love for his family. There are plenty of obstacles to overcome when you find yourself in these situations, but not everyone resolves them. This film is full of tension around every corner, and though Joe plays out quite predictably, it’s still very satisfying at the end.