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JOE (review)

joe_ver2JOE
Written by Gary Hawkins
Directed by David Gordon Green

Starring Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter

Both director, David Gordon Green, and actor, Nicolas Cage, have had rather spotty careers over the past few years. Green, who once made small dramas such as GEORGE WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, has resorted to blockbuster comedies such as YOUR HIGHNESS (which BSR hated) and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (which BSR loved). Likewise, when he starred in films such as LEAVING LAS VEGAS and ADAPTATION, Cage was one of the best actors around. Now, Cage is simply known as a guy who will take any role for a paycheck, no matter how ridiculous it is. With JOE, Green makes a very welcome return to his dramatic roots, bringing Cage with him, allowing him to give his most powerful performance in many years.

Cage plays the title character, a heavily bearded, hard-working, ex-con. To make a living, Joe leads a group of men who poison sickly trees for a company that wants to replace them with new, healthy ones. One day, while on a detail, 15-year-old, Gary (Tye Sheridan, MUD), approaches Joe and asks him for a job. Though initially hesitant, Joe sees something in Gary and decides to take a chance on him. Unexpectedly, Joe takes a liking to Gary, and feels some sort of responsibility for him when he sees that Gary’s alcoholic father (Gary Poulter) beats him.

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Cage is mostly exceptional in the film, but it sometimes seems that he can’t escape the over-the-top performances he’s too often associated with. One scene in particular finds Joe talking to a prostitute, when he asks, “What’s your favourite colour?” She tells him, so he commands, “____ me”. I’ll let you fill in the gap to the best of your imagination. Moments like this and a prior bar fight, seem slightly out of place in the film, which for the most part has a spot-on performance by Cage.

Like in his early films, Green uses mostly non-actors for the film’s supporting cast. It is pretty remarkable to see the kinds of performances he is able to bring out of people who have never acted before. The performances in JOE, feel extremely natural, perhaps because the actors in the film live lives that are not much different than those of the characters they play. One of the best performances in the film comes from Poulter, who was an actual homeless man who Green picked up off the street. Unfortunately, Poulter was found dead just two months after filming concluded.

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JOE is a renaissance of sorts for Cage and Green, showing us that, despite not being at the top of their game for a some time now, they surely still have it in them. Its characters may be a bit grizzly, but JOE does have a fair amount of heart. While it definitely isn’t the best the pair can do, it’s certainly a great step in the right direction.

3.5 sheep

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