Synopsis

In order to provide for his destitute family of drifters, a likable, sincere, able-bodied 15-year-old boy comes to hire on among a burned-out ex-con's group of aging forest laborers. As the man becomes more and more aware of the boy's abusive home life, his deeply buried humanity is roused. Drinking and smoking incessantly to remain detached from his volatile temper, he finally takes the matter into his own hands - come what may - when the boy's alcoholic father finally goes too far.

Director

David Gordon Green

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by rubenm 7 /10

The ultimate feel bad film

This is one of the darkest, bleakest films I have seen in a long time. All characters, without any exception, are unhappy souls, surviving in a grim world, unable to improve their lives, prone to an almost genetically determined urge to mess things up.

The image of rural America this film paints, is almost like that of a third world country. Most men have a cigarette in one hand and a bottle in the other. Dysfunctional families live in decaying shacks, without money or food. Violent dogs are barking everywhere. Disagreements are settled by fistfights or, in some cases, by bullets. The only community centres are a grocery store and a whorehouse. Homeless people are killed for a few dollars and a bottle of liquor.

The central character is Joe, an outstanding role from Nicolas Cage. He is a loner, living on the edge of society, earning a living by poisoning trees so that they can be removed legally. He hires workers on a daily basis, one of them being a 15 year old kid who regularly gets beaten up by his alcoholic father. They get to like each other, but when the boy seeks Joe's protection, things get out of hand.

The main characteristic of the film is the gloomy atmosphere, emphasizing the desolate hopelessness. The cinematography is stark and bare, with only the soundtrack adding some effect. The acting is very effective. Above all the part of the boy's father is worth mentioning. It is played by a local homeless man, who apparently died a few weeks after shooting was finished.

Some reviewers compared 'Joe' tot 'Mud'. An obvious similarity is Tye Sheridan, who plays the same sort of role in both films, as a young kid who befriends an older man. But to me, 'Joe' had much more in common with 'Winter's Bone'. This film was also set in rural America, with Jennifer Lawrence as a teenager trying to keep her dignity in a world of violence and dysfunctional families.

Reviewed by GSP_the_Moviegoer 9 /10

A Refreshing, Unsentimental Portrayal of Southern Americana

There's a quote about midway through David Gordon Green's Joe that I believe is crucial to understanding the film's thematic core. Forgive me if I'm paraphrasing but it goes something like 'These men have no more frontiers'. The line is in reference to the men Joe works with and in many ways applies to the titular character himself. Joe is a man that knows he is stuck; he has no where to go because his surroundings can't let him. Even though he thinks five steps ahead of the average man it is only delaying the inevitable. The conflict of the story however is not whether or not Joe lives but if he can save the future of a promising child, named Gary.

Joe is the kind of film that proves that a small story can be much more meaningful than a larger one. This kind of unsentimental character piece needs a small tight focus so all of the nuances of said characters shines through. Thankfully David Gordon Green understands this; his approach to directing the film is subtle and organic, allowing the actors to shine first and foremost. There are some understated flourishes and several instances of visual poetry but for the most part Green keeps things taut and unsentimental. He wants the audience to be immersed in the volatile world Gary and Joe inhabit.

And what a convincing world it is. Green's depiction of Southern lower class Americana is unsentimental, austere and straightforward. The film doesn't feel the need to overemphasize aspects of these characters live. Nothing is glamorized, nothing romanticized; the film aims for a hard hitting depiction of the character's world which only serves to further highlight the core conflict. Green understands that the audience needs to understand how close Gary and his sister are to harm and in doing so has crafted a thoroughly realized community teeming with details and nuances.

But the real centerpiece of the film is it's acting; three performances in particular stick out. Cage's Joe, Sheridan's Gary and Gary Poulter's Wade. Cage's depiction of Joe is not quite the subdued performance many critics made it out to be. Instead it is a silent colossus of a performance. One of Cage's biggest strengths as an actor is the ability to convey a character's thought process without saying a word. He makes a perfect fit for Joe; a man who is always moving, thinking, never given to slowing down. He is a frank straightforward man and Cage does the character justice. Equally excellent is Sheridan's Gary. Coming off his sterling performance in Mud, Sheridan proves himself one of the most promising actors of the younger generation. He brings balances both the character's more mature and intelligent feelings and ambitions with a raw, primal rage that surfaces in a truly explosive manner. Finally we have Gary Poulter, the dark horse of this movie. A non-actor Poulter was hired due to his similarity to the character he was portraying. And boy does he nail it. Seething with a kind of disheveled rage, imbued with a selfish nostalgic anger for a time he had a future; Wade is a truly terrifying character only made more terrifying by Poulter's raw, thoroughly convincing performance. If Joe is symbolizes a man in societal stagnation, Wade is that stagnation taken to it's logical, horrific end.

Joe is a gritty, hard movie about gritty hard people but it's also intelligent, heartfelt and riveting from the first frame to the last. It solidifies the comeback for David Gordon Green as a unique presence in American cinema and hopefully is a sign that Cage will do more of these kinds of austere, gripping character pieces more often in the future.

9/10

Reviewed by estebangonzalez10 8 /10

The best drama of 2014 so far

"You pretend to be asleep, but I know you'd cry if I said the wrong thing."

Joe is a powerful and emotional drama that despite being slow grips you thanks to an intense realism and some excellent performances. Many have compared this to last year's MUD perhaps because teenager Tye Sheridan is in both films and they happen to take place in southern America dealing with some trashy characters. I really felt this film was more similar to Jennifer Lawrence's Winter's Bone in mood and tone, since MUD had an underlying romantic theme which this film lacks and you have two young characters that have to face great obstacles in order to sustain their families. With his performance in Joe, Tye Sheridan, has acquired quite an impressive resume despite his young age adding this performance to his work in MUD and The Tree of Life. As the title suggests however, the film benefits from a great lead performance from Cage who plays Joe, a man with a troubled past who gets a chance at redemption when he meets this young kid and becomes a sort of role model for him. This is one of Nicolas Cage's top 5 performances and a return to form for the actor that I grew up loving in the 90's. Perhaps my favorite performance in the film comes from newcomer, Gary Poulter, who plays the abusive alcoholic father. I can't think of a more horrifying villain than the character he portrays in Joe. Director, David Gordon Green, has also had a return to form after his disappointing turns in the comedies The Sitter and Your Highness. He is a very versatile director who received a lot of critical acclaim from his early small indies, George Washington and All the Real Girls, and then he also had success with his first stoner comedy, Pineapple Express. You would never imagine Joe was directed by the same person considering this is such a dark emotional drama.

Joe takes place in the wild South lands of Mississippi where we meet Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an ex-con and heavy drinker who is trying to lay low working as a lumberjack. His life takes a turn when he meets a young 15 year old named Gary (Tye Sheridan) who comes to him looking for a job. Gary is the oldest son of a homeless family who suffers abuse from his alcoholic father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Wade spends all the money in booze and beats Gary on a regular basis. Joe's protective instincts come to play when he takes a liking for Joe who he tries to help. Despite having a lot of friends in the small local town, Joe also has made some enemies due to his heavy drinking and constant trouble with the law, and despite how much he tries to restrain himself from hurting others, seeing Gary being constantly abused awakens his anger towards his abusive father.

The characters in this film have a lot of depth and the realism with which they are portrayed by the actors is shocking at times. Sheridan gives a similar performance as that of Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Nicolas Cage is outstanding as well in his restrained role, and Poulter is so terrifying that he makes everyone's father look like a saint. The film has a haunting atmosphere and the drama is so rich that it is hard to remain emotionally detached to the story. It is a powerful and honest drama, one of the best from 2014. It's one of those rare emotional character studies that doesn't feel manipulative and never hits a false note. Cage reminds us why he was such a success in the past and I'm glad to see him back in form after a terrible batch of films.

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