SXSW 2014: Joe
Review by Daniel Rester
During a press conference I attended at SXSW, Nicolas Cage stated that he had taken a year off from acting so that he could find “that 100-point script.” He says he found it in Joe, which Gary Hawkins adapted from Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same name. Now the film comes to us with Cage involved and David Gordon Green helming the project.
Joe works like a dark southern drama mixed with elements of the Western genre. It follows the story of Gary (Tye Sheridan, of Mud (2013) fame), a teenage boy who is trying to escape the dirtiness of his family life and make something of himself. One day he comes across a man named Joe Ransom (Cage). Joe runs a tree-cutting business, but he is also an ex-con with some issues of his own. As Gary and Joe’s paths cross, their lives begin to affect each other in multiple ways – with Joe ultimately faced with the decision to help Gary or not.
Green returns to form with Joe, painting an authentic southern portrait from the word go. He and Cinematographer Tim Orr capture the grit of the locations while Green populates the film with a cast of supporting players that breath believability into the piece; most of the supporting actors are non-professional actors that are actually from the regions in which the film was shot. Hawkins has also provided a script that is filled with terrific dialogue and juicy moments, courtesy of Brown’s book.
Green and Hawkins don’t nail everything perfectly, though. The film takes a while to setup and then it meanders a bit before arriving at an exciting finale. The character interactions are also strong in the film, but there was always an air present in which I wanted to know more about these characters’ backgrounds. Such things make the film feel a bit aloof at times. Green also stuffs a few moments of symbolism down our throats, including showing that it’s a dog-eat-dog world by, well, having a dog eat another dog.
What makes Joe a treat, though, are the three central performances. Cage is great as the title character, giving one of his best performances of the past few years. Any haters of Cage’s work in recent years should see Joe in order to remind them what the actor is capable of; he brings both edge and nuance to the performance, making Joe a real man and a badass antihero at the same time. Sheridan is also top-notch here, revealing the toughness and pain in Gary in equal measures. The most surprising performance, though, comes from Gary Poulter. He plays the father of Gary, named Wade. The actor, who had never been in a film before, brings both scariness and a human quality to Wade. Sadly, Poulter passed away shortly after Joe finished filming.
The little interactions between these characters helps make Joe pop a bit, with the actors having palpable chemistry. One scene involving a “cool face” and another involving a homeless man are especially effective. There are also a few hilarious bits involving police officers, but I don’t want to spoil anything.
Joe presents an interesting southern atmosphere and a few excellent performances. It never quite takes off completely, but it has enough admirable elements to make it worthwhile. I hope Green, Cage, and Sheridan get a chance to work together on something else, as the trio make for a good team.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B)
Runtime: 1 hour and 57 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: April 11th, 2014.
WeLiveFilm Press Photos of Joe:
Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan at a SXSW press conference; photo by Daniel Rester
David Gordon Green, Tye Sheridan, and Nicolas Cage (making the “cool face” from Joe) at the U.S. premiere; photo by Daniel Rester