For years now, Nicholas Cage has been the subject of many a joke, meme, and parody trailer. Later on this year you can even see him in a remake of the Kirk Cameron film “Left Behind.”
Just when his name had become synonymous with terrible films, Cage stars in the indie drama “Joe” and reminds us that he’s actually an Academy Award winner. As you might suspect, Joe is the name of the title character played by Cage. A washed up ex-con in the middle of nowhere Texas, Joe has a reputation for being tough and a raging alcoholic, but people like him because he takes care of his neighbors and is fair to his employees (a gang of tree poisoners that handle some gray area work for lumber companies).
As if the film doesn’t share enough with last year’s “Mud”, Tye Sheridan co-stars as Gary, the boy who is taken in under Joe’s wing after a number of beatings by his loser father. Though Joe himself has a drinking problem, the man is a saint by comparison to Gary’s father. In fact, the actor who plays the father, Gary Poulter, was a homeless man that director David Gordon Green casted. He died in Austin a little after the film was finished.
Like many films shot in the South, “Joe” has a perfect sense of atmosphere. The scenery is perfect and the locations, like the local grocery store, give the audience a sense of what kind of world the characters are operating in. Speaking of which, many of the supporting characters, like the grocer who’s obsessed with WWII trinkets and the amateur butcher who runs a local card game, contribute to this atmosphere without letting things slide into a disgusting world of Rob Zombie stereotypes.
Though Cage, and the acting overall, is great and the story interesting enough, the film does suffer from unoriginality. Who hasn’t seen a film where a young kid is taken in by a dangerous man and both benefit from their time together? Sounds like everything from “Mud” to “Leon/The Professional”. You might even be able to throw old Westerns like “Shane” into that same category. Of course, there is rarely anything new under the Hollywood sun, but let’s be honest, you could probably map out the majority of the film just based off previous films with similar premises.
A bigger problem for the film is its lack of editing. At roughly two hours long, the film barely contains 100 minutes of meaningful scenes. How many times must we watch the same character do the same thing before the director thinks we understand? Roughly the first half of the film follows this timeline: Joe at work, Joe drinking at home, Gary beat by his father, Joe at work, Joe drinks and smokes, Joe visits whorehouse, rinse and repeat. Twenty minutes easily could have been cut from the film and no one would have noticed.
These complaints aside, “Joe” is a good Southern film that gives Nicholas Cage the opportunity to regain some credibility. Even though he’s currently stuck in white trash typecasting, Tye Sheridan proves yet again that he’s going to be an actor to watch. While it may not bring the same kind of good fortune to Cage that “Mud” did for Matthew McConaughey, it’s good to see the actor actually trying again.