Joe (2013) Review

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Hey Joe Where you going with that Oscar in your hand?

Joe (2013): 8 out of 10: I can imagine the following conversation on a Saturday night.

What the hell was that, Leroy?

I am so sorry, honey.

I said I wanted to relax with a fun movie, not cry and feel awful.

I am so sorry, honey.

I mean, if I wanted to see poverty and misery, I’d visit my damn sister.

I am so sorry, honey.

All you had to do was go to the Redbox and get a mindless action film. How hard is that?

I am so sorry, honey. I thought this was a mindless action film we could laugh at.

What made you think that, Leroy? What made you think that?

It said Nicolas Cage, right there on the cover.

There are more than a couple of Nicholas Cage fans who will pick this up on a lark and wonder what the hell have they gotten themselves into. Add on the fact that David Gordon Green, who directed such films as Pineapple Express and Your Highness, directed the movie and the confusion may be complete.

But Cage and Green have a secret. A long time ago before a horrible Gypsy curse caused their respective careers to become laughing stocks, they used to make good movies, very good movies. Joe is one of those movies.

It is a simple, quiet, slow tale with a long-simmering burn underneath. Nicolas Cage plays an ex-con who runs a day labor crew that is poisoning trees so the lumber company can legally cut them down and plant a non-native money crop. A kid (Tye Sheridan) stuck in a horrible home life comes looking for work, and Cage takes the kid under his wing and eventually into his life.

The Good

The Good: I looked up a bunch of the Best Movie Villains of 2013 lists, and I admitted to being both disappointed and a bit surprised not to see the name Gary Poulter on the list. Gary is an actual homeless alcoholic that director David Gordon Green recruited for the pivotal role of the kid’s father. He gives the best performance in the film. Honestly, Poulter gives one of the best performances you will ever see. He is a genuinely terrific actor. Or that just the way he was in real life and he can’t act a lick. We, unfortunately, will never know as he was found dead soon after filming wrapped up drowned in a shallow puddle.

There are a lot of details about time and place that this movie nails to an almost disturbing degree. You forget you are watching a movie and you forget that it stars Nicolas Cage. It almost seems more like a documentary than a fictional piece at times. David Gordon Green’s use of real people and locals instead of actors makes a difference.

This movie reminded me more than a bit of that Matthew McConaughey film Mud to the point that I looked Mud up and realized that Tye Sheridan played a similar role in that film as well only a year earlier. That is some tight typecasting.

The Bad

The Bad: I like my heroes flawed, but occasionally Joe takes those flaws beyond an event horizon or two. It is hardly a deal breaker, but the frustrating protagonist and the slow pace can make parts of the film feel more of a slog than perhaps they should have. Part of me wishes the entire enterprise was a touch tighter, but then it wouldn’t be what it is and I like what it is just fine.

The Ugly

The Ugly: I know I joke about it at the beginning of the review, but some of Cage’s newer fans are in no way prepared for a slow drama with bursts of violence and cruelty.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: Joe is a slightly better film than Mud due almost entirely the performance of Gary Poulter. I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing it is to see such a great villain on the screen. Poulter’s performance along with the authenticity of the overall production differentiates Joe from a lot of the usual southern gothic poverty porn actors showcases and elevates it to a thriller worth watching again.

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