Directed by David Gordon Green
The rough-hewn boss of a lumber crew courts trouble when he steps in to protect the youngest member of his team from an abusive father.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
"You pretend to be asleep,
But I know you'd cry if I said the wrong thing."
I said it once and I'll say it again: David Gordon Green is one of the best filmmakers working today. Sure, he's had a couple of duds, but with a filmography under his belt including George Washington (which I still think is his best work to date), All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels, Pineapple Express (sorry, I love it), Prince Avalanche, and now Joe - which may very well be my second favorite film of his, and that's coming from a big fan of Snow Angels - he's certainly got a more impressive body of work than most other contemporary directors.
I thought that this movie was absolutely phenomenal, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't tear up at the end. I loved everything about it; Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and Gary Poulter's impressive performances, Jeff McIlwain & David Wingo's fantastic score (as usual, though I'm not sure if anything Wingo has done or will ever do will top his collaboration with Explosions in the Sky for Prince Avalanche), the beautiful cinematography, the canine symbolism, the unbearable tension... I thought that it was all extremely well done, and came together perfectly as a whole. The thing that I love most about Green as a director - and I would say that this shines through most effectively in George Washington and Joe - is how authentic and heartfelt his films are. They're so genuine, so realistic, so gritty... you can tell that they're coming from a place deep within his soul, and that he's got story upon story to tell. Tye Sheridan surely is an up-and-comer (like we all didn't know that already from watching Mud), and Nicolas Cage gave one of the best performances of his career here (his best since The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans anyway). I can't find one thing to criticize about this film, but I also don't want to come off as too glowing, so I'll cut off my review here. All that I can say is if you're a fan of Green, or Cage, or Sheridan... hell, if you're a fan of movies in general, see this one. You won't regret it.
★★★★ review by Harry Ridgway on Letterboxd
Joe delves deep into the membrane of a town enveloped with gloom. Its populace and locality are stuck in time and to us spectators, this rural settlement is transposable with a hell all inhabitants have been damned to. David Gordon Green's return to dejection is one of pure excellence and what he snares from his actors is beyond extraordinary. Joe is difficult to remain transfixed upon, but once the credits hit, the rewards are profuse.
Exceedingly dark and unrelenting, Gordon Green's vision infuses a juxtaposition of themes into the film. It's incredibly fascinating, but incredibly deplorable. A touching friendship mixed with scenes of domestic sadism that are the epitome of direness. The film always shifts, in mood or character integrity, and either sheds light or darkness upon them. Joe is the main subject of these alterations who spans from the despicable to the heroic and anywhere in the middle - always questioning our partiality for him. But contrary to the expected, this immobility thrives in the film and keeps our interest piqued and our expectations indistinct.
Our main man, the incongruous Joe, exudes confliction with every motion - it has contaminated his very core. A hunger for violence but the aspiration for self-cultivation is expressed with such clarity through the facial expressions of Nicolas Cage, who has blissfully busted his streak of pedestrian films to once again display his unrivalled brilliance.
Gordon Green puts firm emphasis on just how mislaid this town is. It's spoiled in every direction and the swirling of rubbish in the wind, circulating the borough, is just another aspect that emanates foulness. Gary, who has spent his whole existence confined, tormented, unaided and underprivileged, is a character who we instantly have sympathy for. Tye Sheridan once again stupefies in a role much darker than anything he's attempted before - his ability to convey all sentiments without a word is such a rare trait in a young actor, and he's got to be one of the best there's been.
An acting goldmine, Joe bequeaths the opportunity for resurgence upon two very special actors. The first of course being Cage, whose subtle portrayal and entrancing charisma help this become one of his most bona fide performances. The other is Gary Poulter, a homeless man who's never acted before this film. To describe his performance as mind-blowing isn't enough - his portrayal of Gary's abusive father is concurrently mesmerizing and awfully disturbing. It's shocking, genuine and award worthy -- such a shame he passed before he could witness the universal acclaim he has received.
Joe erratically becomes snagged in a cliché or two, but overall the film is a haunting and innovative portrait of polluted life and one man's struggle with the choice of redemption or destruction. Its atmosphere may be its most resonant aspect, seeping into your mind throughout the movie; the feelings of darkness encase the viewer which is only relieved by the conclusion - one of pure intensity. Joe has been a vessel for the rebirth of many people, and an opportunity to display a posthumous starmaking turn from Gary Poulter. It's a tale of repression that depicts the collective yearning for liberation with a monumental quantity of poignancy propelling it forward.
"Are you my friend?"
★★★★★ review by Ryan Francis on Letterboxd
I'm not quite sure what to say about this at the moment other than it was even better than I was initially expecting and it was fuckin' awesome seeing Nic Cage be fantastic in a significant role again. Seriously, it brought me great joy seeing him give such a great performance after all the nonsense he's been in for too long. Hopefully he keeps it up and makes some sort of comeback after all these years. He's obviously capable of still bringing that inner good acting ability that dwells somewhere in the deep depths of his crazy soul, which I think was most prominently showcased in films such as Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and Adaptation. (2002) - of course among others - a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... (Do I seem over-dramatic/delirious-from-lack-of-sleep enough yet? Am I even making sense anymore? Doubt it.) And if recent newcomer Tye Sheridan sticks to turning in remarkable performances like he did in this and Mud, I feel pretty confident that he'll make a successful acting career for himself.
I was going to leave my rating at four-and-a-half for now but after thinking about it more and more since finishing it just a bit ago, I've realized there's really nothing for me to complain about or that I can truly say I dislike about it (for the time being). I think/hope that a future rewatch will reinforce that verdict.
Man, I really loved David Gordon Green's Joe. So glad he's getting back into the groove of making some more serious films.
★★★½ review by Naughty aka Juli Norwood on Letterboxd
A slow burn southern gothic with exceptional performances by Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter!
A wonderfully dark character study that won't disappoint!
Cage is back!
★★★★ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
"You pretend to be asleep, but I know you'd cry if I said the wrong thing."
Joe is a powerful and emotional drama that despite being slow grips you thanks to an intense realism and some excellent performances. Many have compared this to last year's MUD perhaps because teenager Tye Sheridan is in both films and they happen to take place in southern America dealing with some trashy characters. I really felt this film was more similar to Jennifer Lawrence's Winter's Bone in mood and tone, since MUD had an underlying romantic theme which this film lacks and you have two young characters that have to face great obstacles in order to sustain their families. With his performance in Joe, Tye Sheridan, has acquired quite an impressive resume despite his young age adding this performance to his work in MUD and The Tree of Life. As the title suggests however, the film benefits from a great lead performance from Cage who plays Joe, a man with a troubled past who gets a chance at redemption when he meets this young kid and becomes a sort of role model for him. This is one of Nicolas Cage's top 5 performances and a return to form for the actor that I grew up loving in the 90's. Perhaps my favorite performance in the film comes from newcomer, Gary Poulter, who plays the abusive alcoholic father. I can't think of a more horrifying villain than the character he portrays in Joe. Director, David Gordon Green, has also had a return to form after his disappointing turns in the comedies The Sitter and Your Highness. He is a very versatile director who received a lot of critical acclaim from his early small indies, George Washington and All the Real Girls, and then he also had success with his first stoner comedy, Pineapple Express. You would never imagine Joe was directed by the same person considering this is such a dark emotional drama.
Joe takes place in the wild South lands of Mississippi where we meet Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an ex-con and heavy drinker who is trying to lay low working as a lumberjack. His life takes a turn when he meets a young 15 year old named Gary (Tye Sheridan) who comes to him looking for a job. Gary is the oldest son of a homeless family who suffers abuse from his alcoholic father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Wade spends all the money in booze and beats Gary on a regular basis. Joe's protective instincts come to play when he takes a liking for Joe who he tries to help. Despite having a lot of friends in the small local town, Joe also has made some enemies due to his heavy drinking and constant trouble with the law, and despite how much he tries to restrain himself from hurting others, seeing Gary being constantly abused awakens his anger towards his abusive father.
The characters in this film have a lot of depth and the realism with which they are portrayed by the actors is shocking at times. Sheridan gives a similar performance as that of Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Nicolas Cage is outstanding as well in his restrained role, and Poulter is so terrifying that he makes everyone's father look like a saint. The film has a haunting atmosphere and the drama is so rich that it is hard to remain emotionally detached to the story. It is a powerful and honest drama, one of the best from 2014. It's one of those rare emotional character studies that doesn't feel manipulative and never hits a false note. Cage reminds us why he was such a success in the past and I'm glad to see him back in form after a terrible batch of films.
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