In Joe, Nicholas Cage plays a blue collar head woodsman of a small crew of laborers in the south. A cigarette is never far away from his mouth, and a tug off a bottle of hooch is how he caps his workday. Gary is the 15 year old pseudo leader of his drifting family who approaches Joe for day labor. At 15, Gary has a lot of life ahead of him, however the circumstances of his life now are being dragged down by a mean drunk of a father who will literally do anything to stay loaded. The players in and around Joe’s life give some back story to his brooding character, he’s been “up in it” as they say, and they will vouch for Joe as “good people” without hesitation.
This 2013 drama is directed by David Gordon Greene, who had a sloppy hit with Pineapple Express. His first film, All The Real Girls was not only Zoey Deschanel’s first notable work, it also features some cinematic originality that isn’t readily available in today’s age of the remake and the comic book movie. One of the ways Greene is able to make this story stand out despite it’s overtones of the Hollywood classic, Shane, is the casting of non actors in significant roles. The voice and mannerisms of the characters allow the story to tell itself at times, and provide background and legitimacy for Cage’s Joe.
Playing the role of Gary’s father Wade, is an actual factual bum by the name of Gary Poutler.
Wade has the slur of a longtime alcoholic, and displays both a playful and volatile spirit throughout the film.
Joe’s right hand man on the woods crew, Junior, is played by another non actor, Brian Mays. Weather Junior is teaching Gary the ways of work, holding court during a laugh filled break with this co-workers, or arguing with Gary’s father Wade, Mr. Mays is able to convey a presence to the audience as if he’s been there before.
While you may not understand every word out of their mouths, you’re certainly able to get their intentions. It is amazing that this flea market cast were able to hit their marks and come off as professional and entertaining. Having these guys as compliments to Cages’s character of Joe really makes this balanced piece of storytelling. Joe likes his work, his drink, his smokes, his dog, and his womens. It seems that these interests are a big part of what detaches Joe from liking himself, and it never seems like he’s too far away from doing something to his life that wont be able to repair.
As far as Cage’s performance goes, it is legitimately one of his best. It’s fair to question by what right does Cage have to dangle this kind of talent in front of us and then go off and play an Irish Samurai. The scene in which Cage briefly washes his face with hard alcohol before setting someone straight is quick, subtle, and tells you so much about Joe in less than a second. His back and forth with 15 year old Gary, teaching him to smile through the pain, comes off as exceptionally relatable. Joe’s struggle with those that are testing him, paint both an immediate picture of who this man is, and a much broader sense of what he’s done in the past.
Director Green’s camera work and editing really help here, as this movie doesn’t have the arty feel of All The Real Girls, nor the glossy Hollywood sheen of Pineapple Express. Although Joe has been pegged as dark and gloomy, the style of direction here is subdued and leans more towards neutral. There’s a whole lot about Joe that’s worth watching, and at no point does it talk down to the audience, the story at hand just allowed to sort of unfold.