fri 19/07/2024

Joe | reviews, news & interviews



David Gordon Green's latest marks a return to form for the mighty Nicolas Cage

'My name is Joe and I am a rageaholic': Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan forge an unlikely friendship in 'Joe'

David Gordon Green is a director who's certainly not afraid to confound. His CV includes indie gems George Washington, All the Real Girls, comedy smash Pineapple Express and medieval misfire Your Highness. His previous feature Prince Avalanche was made in secret and starred Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as mismatched highway workers; it was sensitively shot, unpredictable and determinedly oddball.

With Joe Green manages to harness Nicolas Cage's mad energy and channel it into something spectacular - something only a handful of directors have accomplished (David Lynch, Mike Figgis and Werner Herzog amongst them). Brutal and beautiful, Joe is Green's best film yet.

Based on the novel by Larry Brown and adapted by Gary Hawkins (who in 2002 helmed a documentary focussing on the author), at first glance Joe bears comparison to Jeff Nichols's Mud, not least in the casting of the young, gawkily adorable Tye Sheridan who there, as here, befriends a man with a troubled past. Green's film is altogether tougher, prone to more ferocious explosions of violence, but it's also more insightful, bolder and ultimately more humane.

Sheridan's Gary is the audience's way in, but as the title suggests, the movie's beating heart is Joe (Cage), a good man struggling with his anger. As the no-bullshit foreman of an entirely black crew whose job it is to poison trees so that new ones may be planted, he's loved and understood throughout his rag-tag community. Joe lives alone and frequents the local, highly skanky brothel - whose guard-dog he brilliantly describes as "an asshole" in a moment that seems to be destined to live on forever as a meme.

When the 15-year-old Gary comes to him desperate for a job and Joe kindly obliges, Gary proves himself an eager beaver. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for his chaotic father Wade (Gary Poulter, a real-life homeless man who died in 2013, pictured above right - who brings extraordinary believability to the role). Wade is a hopeless, aggressive alcoholic who, as we discover, is willing to do literally anything for another sip. Added threat comes from Ronnie Gene Blevins's rabid Willie-Russell.

Joe is a film of terrific empathy which illustrates how decency and savagery can rub up alongside each other, both in society and in individuals. This perfectly seasoned slice of Southern Gothic is thick with menace and impending catastrophe but is also peppered with eccentricity, not least a wonderfully entertaining screwball-esque moment (which bears comparison to a similar scene in Prince Avalanche) where Gary and Joe drunkenly rip it up when searching for Joe's missing dog - the longest stretch of light in the film's thematic darkness. Furthermore, it captures an impoverished, idiosyncratic community with wit and warmth as Green pulls something sublime from the midst of a mire.

Cage delivers a performance of immense physicality and great poignancy - he's a hulking great beast of a man who dominates the frame, and yet he's also shown to be vulnerable and movingly conflicted, while the sensitive, puppyish Sheridan is a star in the making. Joe is a vivid, muscular portrait of masculinity in multiple guises; it shows a boy attempting to enter and being frightened back from the world of men, and a man facing down his demons.

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Overleaf: watch the trailer for Joe


Joe is a vivid, muscular portrait of masculinity in multiple guises


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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