Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan & Gary Poulter
Running time: 117 min
AT LONG LAST, Nicholas Cage finally releases a movie worth watching since… well, 2009’s Nothing. Joe, leans, steals and borrows from Cage’s spectacular performances in Bad Lieutenant, Leaving Las Vegas, and for those of you with a long memory and too many wrinkles, 1987’s Raising Arizona. He plays the Southern gent or Southern white-trash with such ease it’s hard to know what side of the tracks he really comes from; it’s hard to believe he’s Californian. Academy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award winner, Cage’s prolific output and ability was bound to see him hit another home run at some time.
Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, Prince Avalanche) we also have a refreshing return to his independent roots. Directed with nuance we’re given great acting, great lighting and camera work – none of this ‘It’s too dark to see the action’ – and working with a great script, Green has put together what will later be looked upon as one of Cage’s best films. Adapted from the novel Joe by Larry Brown and screen-written by Emmy winner Gary Hawkins, most famous for his documentaries on those living below the Mason/Dixon line, it’s easy to see where the Southern influences come from.
Having never visited the US I can’t with belief say without doubt that I’m correct here, but: yes, there’s Bourbon or a ciggie on the go in every other scene, yes, the female cast do play subservient wall-flowers with little or no dialogue and of course all of the baddies and some of the goodies do have a few remaining teeth resembling Dulux colour charts. But the retracted speech and mannerisms seem to be a perfect fit for my imagination. Maybe sometimes clichés are correct.
As for the plot… thankfully, and probably because it is an indie movie, we don’t have a typical Hollywood ending, and all the while the viewer has to guess at Joe’s (Cage) past. He owns a small business poisoning trees – hardly one for the CV – and lives as hard as he works. Enter Gary (Tye Sheridan, The Tree Of life, Mud), a 15-year-old son of a chronic alcoholic (Gary Poulter, more on him later) searching for a job to support his mum and sister – though his dad takes all the money for liquor – and the only thing I can compare the growing friendship to is Hemingway’s depiction in The Old Man and the Sea’s of the paternal love and mutually felt respect between old Santiago and the boy. Beaten by his dad who’s nastier than a rattler with a tooth-ache, yet willing to work as hard as he’s pushed, Joe soon recognises the boy’s potential and is taken under his cynical wing.
Chuck in a crumbling brothel where you’d be expecting the girls to pay you, the slowest car chase in cinematic history, a couple of gun fights, dog on dog retribution, kidnapping, WWII helmet wearing shopkeepers, a blind man directing the fully sighted on how to butcher a carcass, two or three fisticuffs and you’ll be getting your six quid’s worth.
And I must return to Wade, the alcoholic, abusive father. Gary Poulter – who has sadly passed away since the movie’s 2013 release – and with a bit of research his personal story is nearly as triumphantly poignant as the film’s script. A homeless OAP break-dancer with no drivers’ license, social security number eking out a living in Austin, Texas, this fella was picked as an extra with a few lines. Once again Gordon Green took a chance on the theatrical and showmanship skills of this nobody bum from the streets. Hopefully a posthumous award will be granted for such a fleeting and brilliant performance.
All in all we see Cage at his finest, a young Tye Sheridan, keep your eye on him, he’s no flash in the pan, and to me the best debut and final film from a not quite over-the-hill pensioner we’re ever likely to see.
Five out of Five Nerds