February 8, 2015


David Gordon Green, 2014
Like he did in previous film Prince Avalanche, Green drops you into the heart of the south in rural Texas. It's a different Texas though this time. This one is a more menacing blue-collar landscape, with dark red-lit brothels, dive bars and rust-laden pickup trucks. Lots of folks living check to check, hour to hour, struggling to make ends meet. Drunks that wander through the streets like slow zombies, scraping to get any buck in their hands so that they can feed the beast sip by sip. Although there are many shifty figures in the story, the film is largely about the relationship between ex-con Joe and drifter-kid Gary. Gary is clearly looking for someone to fulfill a father role while his cannot even gather the balance to walk on his own two feet from his heavy alcoholism. Joe feels responsible to take care of Gary, presumably seeing a younger version of himself in him and also probably feeling guilt about his own negligence in his personal life. Throughout the film he struggles greatly with restraining himself from seeking justice against the dark forces around Gary, mostly his dirt-bag father.

Joe is one of those movies that it almost feels strange you say you enjoyed, because there are so many elements that aren't enjoyable to see. Drug / alcohol addiction, child abuse, animal abuse, violence. It's certainly a negatively charged piece. But what makes Joe good is what makes television series like True Detective good, or Jeff Nichols films good - like last years Mud that Sheridan also appeared in. It gives you the opportunity to see some of the darkest sides of humanity. The Joe character is certainly more of an anti-hero. You root for him to help deliver some come-uppance to the horrible figures in the story, but he is not without his flaws either. He is an absentee boyfriend and father that is slowly killing himself with cigarettes and alcohol. He seems to be a good boss, but not really a good guy. His actions are largely impulsive. His occupation consists of poisoning trees one axe-swing at a time. You wonder if it feeds into his self-destruction, as if he is one of the trees in the forest. Or are the trees themselves reminders of his past, and it's his duty to expel them from the earth? He does take care of his employees and attempts to take care of Gary to a certain extent, but Joe is a work-in-progress that still has a lot of work to do.

Nicholas Cage finally takes on a role that isn't intended to just be another back-tax payment. Instead here you can tell he puts a lot of effort into his performance with his Joe character. He balances retrain and rage so well here, almost like he's redneck version of Bruce Banner. Tye Sheridan is amazing; showing that he's one of the best up and comer actors working today. Sheridan should have a long career ahead of him. He's already been fortunate enough to work with Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green in his first three features, who happen to be some of the best filmmakers working today. Gary Poulter creates one of the most despicable characters ever on screen with his Wade (Gary's dad) character. The film itself is almost like a freaky fun-house of crazies. The town itself is almost a character in the film, with a constant feeling of uncertainty, structures falling apart piece by piece. At the end of the two hour run you are probably happy to get out of the story, but some of the imagery at least shows you some sense of rebirth after a rather destructive climax.

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