By Gary Murray

Starring Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan and Ronnie Gene Blevins

Written by Gary Hawkins

Directed by David Gordon Green 

Running time 117 min

MPAA Rating (not rated probably R)

Selig Film Rating Matinee


Texas has always had films made here but is seldom considered a major cinematic destination.  Giant, JFK and Logan’s Run are just a few of the many flicks with a lens on the Lone Star State.  Austin seems to be the new go-to destination for young film makers.  Joe is a new film by David Gordon Green, shot near the state capitol. 

The story of Joe is of a guy named…wait for it…Joe (Nicholas Cage).  He runs an illegal tree killing company, clearing out the underbrush of bad trees so the lumber company can put in fast growing pines.  He is a hard-drinking, hot-headed task master who only truly worries about himself.  It is amazing how a man who abuses his body can still function as a boss of a crew.

Eventually Joe meets up with Gary (Tye Sheridan) a young kid who has been living by his wits.  Joe sees something of himself in the teen, a common bond of a hard life.  Eventually, Joe hires Gary to work for the company.    

Gary has one goal, to protect his little sister from the ravages of his dysfunctional family.  Dad is an alcoholic and one mean SOB.  All Dad wants to do is drink, slacking off working with Joe and Gary.  Gary works to make money to buy a Joe’s old truck and make sure his little sister is safe.

Eventually, events happen where Joe has to step-up and help out Gary.  It is also the beginning of his eventual downfall.  In the world of Joe, no one will come out unscathed. 

This could be the best performance of Nicholas Cage’s career.  It is full of grit and vile but somehow Cage finds humanity in the reading of Joe.  He is a very flawed character but also a character one can root to succeed.  There are few of those over the top flashes that seem to overtake the acting style of Cage, keeping it cool to get a grander message across.

Truly the biggest find is Tye Sheridan as Gary.  The kid from Mud and The Tree of Life delivers a complex character with simple grace.  There is this wide-eyed optimism in the performance that draws the audience into the character.  This young actor is headed to the highest levels of stardom.

The film is directed by David Gordon Green, the man behind Prince Avalanche and Pineapple Express.  This film couldn’t be any more different.  It is Southern Gothic with a definite Texas twist.  His story telling style in Joe is simple, without fancy editing and camera moves.  Green lets his actors tell the story, not his lens. 

The casting of Joe is another interesting element.  Green used independent actors and real-life non-actors in various roles.  He gets some incredible performances from ordinary people and seamlessly blends the two groups.

The problem with Joe is that is just too depressing to watch again.  There are many movies that fall into this category.  The Accused and 12 Years a Slave are two other examples of well-made films that are part of this downer cinema.  After the lights come-up, one knows it will be the last time they will every see the work again.

Joe is a brutal film to watch, full of images that may unsettle some film patrons.  The film is basically a tragedy in the realm of the Bard.  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea or in this case, everyone’s cup of bourbon. 

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