Oh Nic, just when they are about ready to quit on you, you hit them with something to let them know that when the mood hits you, you can still bring it with the best of them. Or maybe you actually read the script this time before you took the money. I don't know what it was, but this movie 'Joe' is one of the more raw, guttural, and harsh portrayals of the hard American South and you, Nicolas Cage, were the center that made this happen.
Joe seems to be a simple man. He lives in a simple town in rural Mississippi, he has a simple job being a foreman to some of the most colorful people you will ever want to meet who kill trees for a living, and he seems to have real simple needs. Needs which consist of a steady flow of alcohol in his system once he leaves work, the love of his dog and the occasional trip down to the local brothel every once in a while. Simplicity personified. We all should be so lucky to live a life a simple as that. Where else can you walk out of a bar, have some guy unload a few blasts of shotgun buckshot in your shoulder for some perceived wrong, and instead of going to the police or even a hospital, you just go home, dig the shards out your shoulder and chalk it up as simply 'he got me this time' and have another drink. Then again, maybe that's some simple life that I can do without.
Across town there's a boy in town named Gary (Tye Sheridan), a sweet fifteen year boy who is in the middle of a very difficult situation. He has arguably the worst father known to man in the drunken Wade (the late Gary Poulter), his mother is clearly abused and his sister looks to be broken beyond repair. One day he shows up asking Joe for work, with Joe takes a liking to the boy and gives young Gary some work and a relationship is born.
As the rest of the movie plays out, simple Joe, an ex-con of note, has some not so simple demons he has to wrestle with on a daily basis. He has some anger issues which he constantly fights to control, we can tell through the occasional glance or the offhand word that he has family nearby that he doesn't keep in touch with, and he often sees Wade abuse Gary and Joe knows better to get involved because he knows how he is and what it can lead to, but eventually Joe is placed in the position of having no other choice but to get involved. Let the chips fall where they may.
Pushing everything else to rear in this movie 'Joe', this being the story that director David Gordon Greene was trying tell us, the plot of the film… if there was even a plot to begin with…, the underlying point of the film, or understanding the direction that the audience is being drawn down… in front of all of that are truly some of the more amazing acting performances that we have seen in an awful long time. 'Joe', in a sense, feels very documentary like as we are submerged into this rural world, which feels about as authentic as authentic can get, and is populated with characters who are so natural that it is hard to believe they are actually acting. Not just Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan who are both outstanding in this movie, but also Gary Poulter who I guess David Gordon Greene just found on the street somewhere in Austin, and Brian Mays who plays Joe's underboss Junior, and not to forget Aj Wilson McPhaul as the beleaguered Sherriff Earl who is at his wits end about what to do with Joe. All of these characters go a long way in fleshing out the atmosphere of this world that the director has created. For full disclosure my old man lives in Mississippi and I've spent an awful lot of time in Mississippi so I kind of know some of these people.
But back to Nicolas Cage for a bit, Nic probably doesn't want to hear this but there's a whole generation out there who seriously don't understand why the guy is famous. For real, I got one these millennials living in my home who only vaguely remembers Nic as the guy in those 'National Treasure' movies and a long string of truly forgettable films that I tend to watch all by myself. With 'Joe' I don't have to defend the man anymore because it is here on display for all to see. It's more than just the performance. It's an attitude, it's not just the words but the way he says the words, the way he Cage occupies space as Joe. When Joe gives his girl the drink back and says 'I can't taste it', it's a simple line and one would think an inconsequential line but it is nonetheless a powerful line and one that's representative of not only the character but the environment.
Try as I might, I can't find much to criticize about 'Joe'. Maybe it seems a bit aimless at times, but I don't really think so. Perhaps near the end when the film becomes a bit of thriller, this might feel somewhat out of place, but even that seems to flow within what we've seen to this point from where I was sitting and looked to be inevitable. It is a male-centric film with women on the periphery mostly playing sexual objects or victims, which could be taken as a legitimate failing. But overall 'Joe' is a very moving, albeit difficult film with Nicolas Cage delivering his finest performance since… well… forever. Sorry 'Leaving Las Vegas'.