Nicolas Cage is certainly one of the more interesting actors working today. One can’t argue that he chooses the best roles, heck I’d be hard-pressed to say he EVER turns down a role. Still, he hardly ever gives a dull performance, even if it isn’t a particularly good one. Thankfully,Joe is more worthy of his efforts. I can’t say that the film is a total winner, but it gets a lot of things right, including the performances. Cage plays the title character, he’s an ex-con who employs a young boy by the name of Gary (Tye Sheridan). A lot of the early scenes show Joe and his crew at work. They poison trees so another crew can come and cut them down. Essentially they’re killing the trees. Gary is a hard worker, but the trouble lies with his abusive, alcoholic father Wade (played impeccably by the late Gary Poulter). He steals the money that his son earns and almost costs the two of them their new job after he slacks off one day. The film might draw comparisons to another recent backwoods film, Mud. Sheridan also starred in that film, and while there are definitely similarities, Joe really is a different film altogether. This isn’t always an easy film to watch and at times, the various story threads do get a little off course. There are long stretches where we simply watch Joe and his crew while they work. I actually enjoyed some of the scenes as they have such an authenticity to them that’s hard to beat. We also slowly get to know more about Joe and his backstory as the film progresses. I won’t reveal certain plot points as to avoid spoilers, but things don’t end well for many of the characters in this film Also like Mud, things build towards a shootout at the end. There are some slow spots here and there, and some scenes are almost unintentionally funny. Ultimately, I feel Mud offered a more rewarding experience overall, but Joe isn’t without its merits.
Chances are you’ve probably heard about the tragic story about Gary Poulter. He was found dead a couple months after filming had concluded. Director David Gordon Green is known for casting locals in his movies and Poulter was a homeless man who caught Green’s eye and after convincing some (naturally) unsure studio heads, Poulter was cast. Originally, he was to be given a considerably smaller role, but he was ultimately cast in the much larger role of Wade. It’s hard to believe the man had never acted before. He’s spot on as Wade. Through his nearly incomprehensible speech and his constant fumbling, it’s as if Poulter was born to play the part. I can’t say that his death came as a shock, he was reportedly known for many years of abuse, and it shows by his physical appearance. Cage gives one of his better performances as well. At times, he’s much more restrained than we’ve seen with some of his more recent work. Sheridan also does a great job here and shows he’s more than capable of holding his own against a more seasoned actor like Cage. For those curious, I’d say the film is definitely worth renting. It’s not without its flaws and I don’t think it has strong replay value, but it’s worth seeing for sure. The performances alone (especially Poulter) are worth seeing the film for. Just know that it’s a fairly strange film, but also one that will stay with you after it has ended.
Footnote: I kept thinking Peter Sarsgaard starred in this film, but it’s actually Ronnie Gene Blevins. I just felt like sharing that. The two definitely favor each other, but I should’ve known better, especially given the number of films I see.
Video: How’s it look?
The film has plenty of dark sequences, but details are always strong. Poulter certainly had rough facial features (he was even missing part of his ear) and that’s heightened here. Background shots throughout looked strong and the woodsy setting lends itself nicely to the HD format. The print is pristine and free of any noticeable flaws. The image is AVC encoded with a 2.35:1 ratio.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD track also serves the film nicely. There’s plenty of background noises throughout, including insects flying around and the climax certainly kicks things up a notch. Vocals were always strong and clean sounding as well. There are several sequences where the rear channels kick in and add a nice boost. This track (like the transfer) should please fans.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Commentary – This track features the Director, Composer and Actor Brian D. Mays. They provide plenty of good notes.
The making of Joe –Is a pretty standard featurette, but still provides a good bit of background info. We hear a lot about the casting and how it was essential to get the right actors for this film. I enjoyed seeing some of the interview footage with the Gary Poulter. They talk about how he got the part as well. We also hear a little about his death.
The long gravel drive: The origins of Joe– We are given a look at how the film came about. It’s fairly interesting.
Deleted Scenes – 2 shorts scenes here, one with Wade talking to his wife and another featuring Wade and Willie. The latter is just an extended scene. Both were wisely cut, but are still interesting to see.