Joe is an ex-convict trying to make ends meet by running a tree demolition crew. His temper constantly gets the better of him and as such he has very few real friends. One day a fifteen year old boy called Gary asks Joe for work and he agrees. Seeing something of himself in the kid, Joe becomes a father figure to him as he helps Gary through his struggles. Sometimes the right path is fraught with devilish people.
We are big fans of director David Gordon Green. His comedies – Pineapple Express and Your Highness – had us giving great belly laughs. Now he has stepped away from those and set footage in the drama genre. This is straight up drama; there is no comedy or light hearted relief. But there does not need to be as Joe is an exceptional piece of work.
This is a Southern states of America drama that builds tension at a slow pace but captures the raw emotion of both leads in equal parts. We didn’t take a side with either Joe or Gary, instead we were pulled along by each storyline and engaged in how this was to play out for both of them. Gary – A kid already world weary and he hasn’t hit adulthood yet – is the catalyst yet it never feels like he sparks the problems. Joe is the problem, but we wanted him not to be. There is simmering tension between them both even though they are like a mighty double act. But an act that could boil over at any time.
Nicholas Cage is a completely different person in this film compared to all those b-movie “rage cage” films he has been doing over the past few years. This is the Cage we saw in Leaving Las Vegas, subdued and yet emotionally connected. His restrain in not going over the top shows that Cage still has the ability to be a great actor. OK, he does burst into rage a couple of times but this is also different. It feels well drilled and not just let it all out Cage rage. His performance is the whole reason why the movie works so well. There is terrific support from Tye Sheridan as Gary.
Joe is the type of film you would mistakenly pass on as it could be construed as another Nic Cage b-movie – yet this is a different beast. Here we find emotion, tension, rivalry and human survival all done with unflinching dark drama.