Nicolas Cage is back on top of his game in the new film, "Joe." Gone are the overly calculated quirks in his recent work. Back is the actor who bares his soul as so few can.
In this moody Southern gothic, Cage plays Joe, an ex-con working as the foreman for a tree-poisoning firm. He wears his addictions like a badge. They include drinking, smoking, whoring and agitating cops. But, deep down, Joe is a likable, fair, good old boy with a heart of gold.
One day, 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) shows up looking for work. Joe hires him, recognizes he's a hard worker and, eventually, takes him under his wing. Soon he discovers that Gary's home life is an unbearable nightmare. His father, Wade (Gary Poulter), is a violent and abusive drunk who beats his son and steals his hard-earned wages. Joe steps up to the plate, risking everything to save Gary from a certain descent into darkness.
At times, "Joe" is a difficult film to watch. Director David Gordon Green ("George Washington") doesn't candy coat the backwater Texas way of life. It's brutal, nakedly harsh and frightening. A deer is gutted in a family's kitchen, a dog kills its rival, and a man mercilessly beats another to death for a bottle of wine.
In contrast, Green also presents a cast of characters whose interactions with one another allow them to rise above the adversities. Poisoned trees give way to newly planted hearty pines. There's an underlying sense that all may be well with the world if we give it time.
The casting of this gripping film is as incredible as it is impeccable. Aside from Cage and Sheridan, no members of the cast are professional actors. Astonishingly, Gary Poulter, who gives an outstanding performance as Gary's vicious father, was a homeless man prior to filming "Joe." So sadly, he was found dead in three feet of water two months after shooting ended.
But it's Cage's riveting, multi-layered portrayal of a damaged man who finds redemption that elevates this film to greatness. He doesn't hit a single false note in this brilliant portrait of a man at war with himself. It's the best work of his career.
"Joe" is also rife with humor, captivating cinematography and magical music. Green definitely grasps the fact that the dichotomies in life are what it's all about.
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