Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Joe is an ex-con who is desperately trying to live some version of the straight and narrow while running his own tree clearing business. Upon discovering the abhorrent living conditions and treatment one of his new young workers is being forced to endure, Joe, one of the most unlikely of role-models, takes it upon himself to begin looking after this young man.
Nicolas Cage has been one of the most enigmatic and divisive actors working today, sentiments only complicated more by his past financial difficulties and the effect they had on the quality of projects Cage began choosing in the hopes of digging himself out of debt. Joe is a refreshing glimpse of what might have been and what still can be when it comes to this accomplished Academy Award winner. Despite the character’s eruptive outbursts of distempered fury, Joe in fact, is surprisingly one of Cage’s most expertly restrained performances. Even during moments when the searing, inner rage is so adeptly mirrored on Cage’s face, tone and delivery adroitly represents a man desperate to overcome his inner demons. I have little hesitancy proclaiming that Joe is one of Cage’s best and most universally accessible performances.
Cast as Gary Jones, Ty Sheridan is a name you will be hearing a lot more of in the next few years. A talented young actor, Sheridan, in his first two projects as an actor, had the fortune to work with legendary director Terrence Malick in his 2011 avant-garde masterwork, The Tree of Life, and easily held his own along side Matthew McConaughey in the 2013 backwoods drama, Mud. In Joe, Sheridan is once asked to play a rural teen who is desperately trying to escape and overcome his lot in life. While Ty shows his usual flashes of skilled acting proficiency, if pressed, my one frustration with Sheridan’s performance were these bizarre, random bouts of…goofiness that at times would take me out of the moment. Overall however, Sheridan and Cage share an entertainingly singular on-screen bond.
Gary father’s Wade is one of the most frighteningly barbaric depictions I’ve seen in quite some time. Completely out of touch with reality or any sense of morals, Wade is a man so vile and hell-bent in his addictions that he has no qualms harming anyone standing in his way, including his family. The part and performance became even more fascinating to me when it was discovered that Gary Poulter, the actor who plays Wade, was in fact a local homeless man that director David Gordon Green came across and decided to cast in the role. Tragically, it was later reported that Poulter passed away on the streets of Austin, TX mere months after filming wrapped. Despite no previous acting experience, what Poulter manages to leave behind is a raw, bullish performance that is definitely worthy of recognition.
Somber and ominous throughout, with a foreboding tone of the inevitability to come, the film depicts a man who longs to be at peace and free of the inner demons that have controlled so much of his life. But he knows as well as us, that despite all good intentions, in the end, his fate is something he just won’t be able to shake. David Gordon Green has been desperately trying to recapture the magic of his 2000 surprise, breakout debut, George Washington. Thanks to Nicolas Cage’s noteworthy portrayal, Joe is evidence that perhaps Green is back on the right track. While trying to decide the overall grade for the film, I mentioned during a text conversation with Jason that I wanted to give it a B-, but deep down I just didn’t think I could truthfully sell it that high. Jason (a contributing writer to the site that I swear WILL one day contribute his unique voice) in all his sage and infinite wisdom, had this to say about Joe, “if I hadn’t already seen Winter’s Bone, Mud, and especially Justified, I maybe could have gone higher. But it’s like I had already been down that road before and seen it done better.” Well said my friend, I couldn’t have put better myself.-JL