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Joe (2013)

July 10, 2014

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There’s a current certain trend in independent cinema that has been prevalent for the past five or so years. Sharing a similar aesthetic, these specific films are a concoction of nefarious thriller with coming of age drama that centers on a youth living in unforgiving, harsh existences. Beginning with  began with 2010’s Winter’s Bone, the trend continued on to include MudBeasts of the Southern Wild, and a few others. These films possess a knack for setting their tales at the forefront of rural areas inhabited by murky waters of a bayou or the wallowing woods of Appalachia. They usually follow a teen, or preteen, defined by valiance and tenacity, but reared in unfortunate, destitute situations. Usually are the focal point of their respective films, these teens introduce us to antagonists, at times protagonists, of their narratives interlocking a dramatic tension within the story of their independent growth. David Gordon Green’s Joe is a spectacular character study that sets its claim within this elite genre and is arguably one of the better ones.

Joe, similar in style and substance to Jeff Nichols’ Mud, presents us Joe (Nicholas Cage), a well-liked ex-con known for his helpfulness, wise words, and brimming temper. Joe is the boss over a group of tree exterminators who are hired to poison and kill trees in order to clear out land for future tree farms. When Joe’s not pondering in solitude with his cigarette, he makes his rounds through town helping cut deer meat or settling issues. He soon meets Gary (Tye Sheridan), a young teenager looking for work along with his abusive, alcoholic father Wade (Gary Poulter). Out of the kindness of his heart, Joe hires both on the spot, but soon learns the boy’s father is a lazy, selfish drunk incapable of providing good work. Joe must also deal with with his own conflicts around town steaming from his short patience and run ins with the law.

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Green has always had a way of capturing a sense of genuineness within an actor allowing them find common ground with their characters enough to appear natural on screen, despite the lines they are reciting. Joe exhibits how Green has perfectly honed in on that specific skill of directing. The characters in the film speak with such honesty and causality that most of the films feels more like a pristinely filmed documentary rather than a dramatic film. Broken dialect and southern vernacular are ever present in characters representing varied and realistic backgrounds rarely seen on screen, which gives the film a sense of familiarity, humor, and genuine sadness.

The mainstream actors pitted alongside the extras and minor characters deliver equally phenomenal performances. Nicholas Cage does a staggering job straddling both dramatics and his iconic goofy, slightly insane side. Oddly enough, one of the more memorable scenes of the film involves Cage teaching his protégé, Gary, the “cool grin,” a smile present in Cage’s real life IMDB photo which makes the film and Cage’s aura all the more meta and strange. Yet, Cage’s performance reminds viewers that despite his meme worthy existence in recent years, he possesses a raw talent of emotion and pain that translates effortlessly through the screen. Rarely anyone featured in the film drops the ball on theatrical performances a telling sentiment of Green’s ability to capture raw, powerful moments.

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Joe is an extremely strange film that goes places one wouldn’t expect or desire it to go. As a character Joe is a stubborn son of a bitch whom invites his moments of bad luck which can make him slightly frustrating to watch. However Cage and real-life drunk PoulterGary Poulter emotes a gentle spirit within their characters allowing them to exist respectively as likable and tragic figures in the film. Though Wade doesn’t receive the focus needed to truly understand his menace, the character makes for a frightening, social commentary on the nature of alcoholism and mental health. Joe is a film like no other despite sharing a similar aesthetic to its peers. It uses a variegation of colors to explore a sinister, dark aspect of life that isn’t pretty to look at.

SEE IT. It’s a rare oddity of a film that shines with an illuminating realism and humor.

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