Indie director David Gordon Green is back to exercising his meditative filmmaking-voice, helming Joe, a poignant down-south tale about rising above the muck of one’s murky essence and aspiring to decisively come-of-age achieving something selfless within one’s life. Similar to Green”s own recent career-path (with the exception of his last film, Prince Avalanche) Nicolas Cage also returns to form as he flambés his dime-a-dozen camp allure and disappears into the withered galoshes of the film’s title character/protagonist.
It’s a pleasure to see Cage back in the realm of the serious thespian again, and even if I have to sit through fifteen manic-induced ‘rageathons’ (some of them being quite brilliant in their own right) to get to those two sincerely subdued and utterly endearing, wide-eyed Cage performances nowadays, I’m just happy to know that the once academy-award winning actor still possesses the desire to (every-so-often) remind skeptics that Cage (the actor not the performer) is beyond copacetic when it comes to character building and emoting greatness.
While I don’t think Joe is a masterpiece by any means (and I actually prefer Gordon Green’s foolhardy fever-dream filmmaking aesthetic aligned to something more in the vein of Prince Avalanche) I’m now going to gleefully contradict this very point, because I do believe it’s Green’s lucidly grounded flow that kind of transcends Joe from being painfully predictable and generic into something kind of bombastically lunatic. And not insane in any sort of comical or ostentatious tone, but more in this genre-bending form of schizophrenia that I really dug about this film. For me, Joe (on the surface) works as this hard-hitting family drama about a son in need of a father and a father-figure in need of a son, or at least someone in his life to help raise himself out of the internal darkness from within. Then the film also plays as this brooding contemporary representation of down-south living, and yet what could have been this ill-advised, ham-fisted, late-night docu-drama in the hands of another filmmaker, then rambunctiously scrapes the surface of many other types of genre territories. Combining elements of the classic western, Green takes a possible standard rural melodramatic narrative and elevates the material into the clouds of something a little more daring. Something true grit and hard to wash down.
Featuring a gem of a performance in the film’s main threat (antagonist) to Cage’s character and the boy (Gary) that he takes under his damaged wing, actor Gary Poulter delivers possibly one of the scariest and utterly menacing depictions of a man completely lost to the the 24/7 horrors of alcoholism. Poulter’s persona as Wade a.k.a. G-Daawg is so strikingly convincing that I sweat buckets of fear every-time his son spoke out of line to him. Every-time his son just sat down next to him, I cringed at what gluttoned rage would follow. Wade’s habit for abuse only escalates (with plausible extremes) and Poulter’s performance is so impressively range-worthy that it’s never just one-note (there is indeed remnants of humanity lurking within) however he also kind of incarnates some sort of heel-horned hillbilly personification of the devil himself.
Joe is kind of this redemptive watch of sorts. Not just for the obvious themes the film’s characters are persevering through, but also for the careers of the the movie’s director and lead actor. In so many amazing, classic, and underrated films, Cage’s haloed eyes have staggeringly said so much throughout cinema — Look into Joe’s and you’ll see a human being again.
Watch the Joe Trailer