Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Joe is the dark and gritty tale of friendship and redemption featuring memorable and moving performances from Nicolas Cage, as the titular character, and young breakout star Tye Sheridan; as well as a jaw-dropping, scene-stealing performance from Gary Poulter, a real homeless man taken off the streets of Austin, Texas and daringly cast as the third male lead in our tale. Joe (Cage) is a hard-working but short-tempered ex-con who’s fair to his workers (day laborers who he hires to poison trees for a lumber company looking to clear land for new saplings), his own worst enemy when it comes to dealing with local law enforcement, and has a soft spot for a kid in need, namely Gary (Sheridan), an abused kid who one day shows up looking for work for himself and his good for nothing father.

Gary might be poor and uneducated but he has a sweetness and dignity to him that quickly endears Joe and his workers to him. Not intimidated by hard work, Gary will do whatever is necessary in order to earn a few bucks to bring food home for his mom and sister, his father Wade (Poulter), a mean, depraved and rootless drunkard, is another story, as he gets fired after his first day of work, only to later beat up Gary and steal his money. Joe knows better than to get involved in this family drama, but when the kid shows up at his home bruised and battered, he steps in and offers Gary not platitudes but warm clothes and food, and most importantly his friendship. When Wade’s depravity leads to circumstances beyond Gary’s control, he turns to Joe in his hour of need and forces him to make a life-changing decision.

I loved this movie. Joe is a tale that shocks with its searing darkness and hopelessness, and awes with incredibly powerful performances from the entire cast; Joe delivers a truly unforgettable experience. The ending of this tragic tale is a foregone conclusion from the get go – a runaway train you know is on a collision course with destiny; the only questions is the when and how many casualties in the oncoming wreck. You are nonetheless riveted to the screen; fully immersed in Joe’s world of good and evil, redemption and immorality; a hero, flawed and complex, whose anger and goodness are equally hidden just below the surface.

Though in the same vein as Mud, highlighting a relationship between a troubled adult and lost adolescent, Joe offers us an antihero whose struggles aren’t a resolution to his own mistakes but instead a gallant and heroic attempt at righting the shitty hand a young kid has been dealt. Joe is willing to sacrifice so that Gary can put down the baggage which he’s been carrying through life. Through his kindness and compassion he is more of a father to Gary than the sinister shadow of a man that has marred his young life.

The acting is truly exceptional. Much like Mud showed the true range of McConaughey’s talent, Joe serves to confirm Nicolas Cage’s sometimes overlooked acting chops. Whether it’s the barely contained rage visible on his face or a simple look of compassion or resignation, each is delivered effortlessly so that you truly forget its Cage and only see Joe. Sheridan is equal to his older counterparts; conveying all the false bravado and vulnerabilities of a child desperate and afraid.

As for Poulter, which I mentioned above, he was amazing. Physically, he seemed born for this role; embodying the wiry frame, crazy scraggily white hair, missing teeth and flinty blue eyes you’d expect from someone like Wade. Heck, I’m sure they didn’t have to use a lot, if any, make-up for filming, but it was truly his acting or presence on screen that resonates. Maybe he wasn’t acting but instead just being himself which is why it rang so true. Either way his every scene conveyed a rawness and savagery that seemed scarily too real. It’s heartbreaking to think what might have become of his life if this opportunity had come sooner. Sadly, the homeless movie star and ex-Navy man returned to the streets after filming ended on his potentially star-making role; suffering from seizures he ended up in the hospital where he was diagnosed with lung cancer and a few weeks later was found dead at a homeless campsite where his death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Joe is an incredibly raw and unflinching tale of sacrifice and redemption; highlighting the selflessness of a hero who bravely helps chart a new hopeful course for someone else’s life.