Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins
Release Date: April 11th, 2014
We see the world from a young man’s pained eyes in the new drama, order Joe. From the feature’s opening, what is ed the camera is placed behind the teenage Gary (Tye Sheridan) as he speaks to his violently abusive father (Gary Poulter). Gary is his naive offspring— young but not that innocent. Throughout the entire film, director David Gordon Green camera often returns to its perch behind Gary’s shoulder as it reveals the blighted and painful world that the boy has grown up in.
With an ungracious family to support, Gary has little going for him save for his determination and his absolute drive. He ventures into the woods and meets the title character, played by a powerful Nicolas Cage. Gary asks for a job– willing to accept anything to make a few dollars–and is rewarded with a position on Joe’s crew. That team of older men is cutting down a forest full of older trees to replace them with new young ones that can flourish in the years to come. Rugged and straightforward, Joe looks at Gary as just another worker in the woods– rather than a young person struggling to support his family.
In the past, director David Gordon Green has succeeded in comedy— Pineapple Express in 2008 comes to mind— but he’s also struggled with human drama. The burdensome Prince Avalanche from 2013 was critically-acclaimed but suffered because of its lackluster plot. Here, the director takes an unflinching look at unflattering characters and develops them into reasonable people who are simply trying to earn enough money to either survive or keep their families alive.
Cage, as the thoughtful title character, brings an uneasiness to the role capturing Joe’s sometimes-brutal nature but also his endearing qualities. At first, hiring Gary is a business decision made because the young man seems intent enough to do the work. What that relationship becomes though is a father-son one, where Joe sees Gary as the tremendous young man that he is.
At first, Gary brings his alcoholic father Wade (Gary Poulter) to the job and Gary is willing to hire both of them but Wade is an angry old man, who knows nothing about responsibility or hard work. He just knows how much a bottle of booze is and is willing to murder those who stand in the way between him and what he wants.
The three men at the forefront here all want different things and they struggle with one another in achieving their objectives. Based on the novel by Larry Brown and adapted by Gary Hawkins, Joe is brutal in its outlook at these three men and never shies to show them at their best or at their worst. Even when Joe knows that Gary looks up to him, he knows that he can’t offer a good life. “A better one” is all he knows he can provide.
It’s a tragic footnote to add that Poulter, who steals several scenes and does commanding work against a powerful Cage, died shortly after making this feature. Previously homeless, Poulter brings an authenticity to the proceedings here that make this tough world seem so real and painful to live in. There may be moments that veer this picture off course but in its entirety, Joe features a great story where characters put their pain on the line in their pursuit of survival. It will be hard to forget.
Review by: John Hanlon