Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Reel Review: JOE

There can be little argument that actor Nicolas Cage has gone from hero to zero in the past decade. After spending the better-part of his career as an A-lister, Oscar-contender, and part-time action star, Cage has gone into the realm of B-level movies while giving performances to match the hammy and craptacular productions. Here in 2014, Cage goes back to his indie film roots in JOE; a gritty low-budget flick in which he resurrects his once-forgotten talent to command a film.
In the modern-day Deep South, Joe (Cage) is an ex-con who befriends Gary (Tye Sheridan), a young teen who is only looking for a way to support his family despite the antics of his abusive and alcoholic father (Gary Poulter).

JOE doesn’t have much going by way of plot. There is no ultimate goal, nowhere to go, and not much for the characters to do or strive to achieve. Director David Gordon Green instead focuses his film on the two main characters who could not be more different from one another. Joe is an ex-con who has already been chewed up and spit out by life, while Gary is on the verge of being chewed up early thanks to the beatings and drunken behavior by his father. JOE resists the urge to delve in a sappy hug-fest and instead keeps things very grounded and real, taking the two characters and making them trudge through the situation one mess at a time while relying each other.
For the most part, it works thanks to the committed performances by the cast and David Gordon Green’s true-the-the-bone dedication to creating atmosphere. The film takes place in a depressed area of the Deep South, where people live just above the poverty line in shacks, scratch out a living by day-to-day jobs, and spend spare time gutting deer in their living rooms. Green composes a stunning looking film, and with a haunting score creates a thick atmosphere in which you can feel the summer heat and the sting of the ‘skeeters on your arms. Green doesn’t offer any grand ideas or try to preach any sort of lesson…he just lets the characters play off each other and allows things to evolve naturally. It’s not a very dense film…more like  a series of events, but there is enough meat on the bone to satisfy an appetite.

Nicolas Cage returns to actually caring about his art. His performance is stunning; he nails his southern drawl perfectly, and look of internal anguish is never far from his eyes or face. His body language constantly conveys a burden…and his character’s traits of a hot-temper and lost soul allows Cage to prove just how good he can be. Young Tye Sheridan is an equal match to Cage’s presence; once again showing his great promise in the years to come. As good as Cage and Sheridan are, they are nearly upstaged by the late Gary Poulter. Poulter, who was a real-life homeless man who was plucked off the streets of Austin Texas for the role, turns in a performance which ranks up there with any one of the greatest screen villains. He is one of the most despicable human beings ever filmed who beats his kids, mugs the homeless to steal their booze, and pimps out his underage daughter…and his performance is very committed and believable.
The finale goes for the shock factor and may be a little disappointing to some, but it makes sense considering the paths the characters were on for most of the film. JOE is not a grand statement on life or redemption, nor does it try to be. What it does instead is hang its hat on the Deep South…making like the type of yarn you spin around the campfire while the moonshine gets passed around…while welcoming back an old friend.


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.