Weekly Watch: ‘Joe’
Jimmy Kemper | Monday, March 2, 2015
It’s midterm week. For most of us, that means lots of stress and little sleep, except for my history major roommate, who’s snoring as I write this. If you are looking to avoid the stress for a few hours on Netflix, then I absolutely cannot recommend any Southern-Gothic movie made in 2013 about friendship and fatherhood more than “Joe.”
“Joe” is my favorite movie from that highly specific genre right now. Not because it’s the only one of those I have seen, but because it is a genuinely great, well-acted and well-thought-out film. “Joe,” directed by David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express,” “Mud”) and based on the 1991 Larry Brown novel of the same name, revolves around the relationship between Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old drifter, and Joe, the titular man who hires him (Nicolas Cage).
“Wait,” you might say. “Nicolas Cage? That guy can’t act. Who let you write a movie review?”
Before you post vulgar insults about my writing abilities in the online comments section for this article, understand that this isn’t your “Ghost Rider” or “Stolen” Nicolas Cage. This is the classic “Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Moonstruck” Cage: a return to form for one of the most passionate and powerful actors of our time.
Cage shines throughout the whole movie as he transforms into Joe — a serious, hardworking man who has had some violent and emotional past interactions with the law. The movie shines when Cage is with Sheridan.
Gary’s relationship with Joe shows a strong chemistry between the two actors. As Joe works with Gary poisoning trees for a local lumber company, he quickly becomes impressed with Gary’s work ethic and opens up to the young man. They share beers, explore the Southern wilderness and reflect on life. Over the course of the movie, Joe becomes a father figure to Gary.
The relationship between Gary and his actual father, Wade (Gary Poulter), stands in stark contrast to Gary and Joe’s. Wade is an abusive alcoholic who Gary absolutely despises, with good reason.
For instance, “Joe” opens with a dialogue between Gary and Wade, in which Gary criticizes Wade for not having a job and destroying anything good that comes their way. Wade then hits Gary hard before proceeding to be beaten even more violently by two unknown men.
“Joe” and all of its respective actors perform best in the movie’s intimately brutal moments, most notably in the climax. The movie takes an incredibly dark turn that explores the characters as they are pushed to their extreme.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead) Willie, one of Joe’s local rivals, offers Wade more money for alcohol if he gives him his daughter — Gary’s sister — Dorothy. Willie does this to upset Gary, who had previously started a fight with him. In this final scene, it becomes evident who Gary’s real father is, as Joe comes to save the day and kills Willie. Unfortunately, Joe is shot by one of Willie’s accomplices and is dying. Joe runs out of bullets and is unable to shoot Wade, who silently jumps off a bridge in a final act of distress and failure. Rather than help his real father, Gary runs to Joe’s side and hugs him as he bleeds out.
What amazed me about “Joe” was how director David Gordon Green was able to create these powerful, real and moving scenes in such a simple (and low-budget) story. The love and connection between Gary and Joe in Joe’s final moments have none of the awkwardness or flatness that have accompanied the final acts of Cage’s movies of late. Rather, we see a Nicolas Cage who doesn’t merely act as Joe, but becomes him, with all his flaws and mannerisms. “Joe” is a return to form for Nicolas Cage, a return which I hope to see more of in his upcoming films.