Starring NIcholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Kay Epperson
Nicholas Cage might not approve of the word comeback, but after taking a year off and delivering a string of commercially and critically unsuccessful films the former action star returns to his independent roots. Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, All the Real Girls) also looks back upon his beginnings with Joe, which takes a hard look at a small isolated community of poverty, addiction and male inferiority. Portions of the film that focus on the drunken fights and prostitution feel more like a dramatized episode of the Jerry Springer show. Cage admits he returned from his hiatus to do this role based on the limited amount of “acting” and more focus on just being the character. Joe might seem reminiscent of last years Mud, and Green admits he is friendly with Joe Nichols and, obviously Sheridan is along for both pictures.
Joe Ransom (Cage) is known for two things: his ability to hire day labors for killing trees and planting new ones and his violent temper. Gary (Sheridan) is nearly destitute and constantly hungry due to the shack his family lives in and his abusive, alcoholic father. Joe agrees to let Gary work; he is dedicated and honest and that appeals to Joe, who has had his own rough times and given a hand and a pass from the local sheriff. Both men seem unable to escape the darkness that is trying to prohibit their success; Joe got in a fight with a local at a bar who is now trying to kill him. Gary’s father, desperate for his next drink, beats up his son and steals his weekly earnings for the next drink.
The film drags on from one grueling scene to another.
The first hour of the film Green details the nasty side of backwoods Texas. It’s unglamorous, dirty and often disgusting. There is a scene between two old drunk men that looks more like the interaction between two zombies in a horror film. Green is very focused on the gritty part of this story, showing how one man will go to great lengths to get what he wants. The women, dogs, houses and even bars are so filthy you can almost smell them through the screen. The world Green creates here seems hopeless and lacking any type of salvation (only the police have decent employment). Yet when Joe and Gary create a bond and even drive around town looking for Joe’s dog (while drinking behind the wheel), it’s as if for a moment time stands still for both of them.
From the beginning Joe always seems like it is hurling towards some tragic fate (Mud felt the same way). We never really understand what Joe wants, and he doesn’t either, which is the feeling of unrest Cage exhibits. The sheriff is trying to save Joe, Joe is trying to save Gary, and Gary is trying to save himself. Yet as the film drags on from one grueling scene to another, I asked myself what Green was actually trying to say with this piece; what am I supposed to be taking away from here? The film never provided me with an answer, and perhaps it’s because it never gives you a real reason to care about the questions it’s asking.
A step in the right direction for Cage, but a boring ride for the audience.