Fans of director David Gordon Green know that his style and projects vary tremendously. Whether he is directing his buddies in madcap capers like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS or showing a more subtle side with PRINCE AVALANCHE, the one thing that remains a constant is Green's ability to bring amazing characters to life on screen. In his latest effort, JOE, the film maker once again showcases an incredible cast of personalities.
Based on the Larry Brown novel of the same name, JOE is the story of a teenage boy, Gary, who forges an unlikely friendship with a notorious hothead, Joe, in rural Texas. Gary's dad is a drunk who drags his family from town to town each time he gets himself in trouble. The condemned house where they are squatting this time is the epitome of squalor. Gary's dad is abusive, his mom is constantly spaced out, and his sister is mute. This kid has it rough. While goofing off in the woods one day, Gary runs across Joe and his work crew who are hired to poison trees on the property so the landowner can legally clear them. Gary asks Joe for a job, and their bond is immediate. As life goes from bad to worse for Gary, Joe steps in as a sort of father figure, helping and inevitably defending the vulnerable teen and his kid sister.
JOE is great, but boy is it a hard watch. Every scene is drenched in whiskey, cigarette smoke, and poverty. From the friendly local brothel to the cluttered general store, each location has a seedy feel that sets the gritty tone of the story. Though there are a few lighthearted moments, the overall grimy atmosphere helps to exacerbate Gary's dire situation.
So now back to this cast of amazing characters. Leading the players is a rough and rugged version of Nicolas Cage not seen since his LEAVING LAS VEGAS days. Cage reminds us that he is very capable of a wonderfully nuanced performance with zero signs of the over-the-top shenanigans for which he has become notorious.
Tye Sheridan (TREE OF LIFE, MUD) is proving himself to be quite a contender once again holding his own with the big boys. He manages to exude confidence on screen while maintaining the innocence of a young man forced to make his own way in a shitty circumstance.
The rest of the cast is filled with the kind of local characters that will have you questioning whether they are pros delivered by a casting director or unknowns picked right off the street. In the Q and A following the film, Green admitted that many of the incredible peripheral cast really are locals with inherent charisma, though he also said if he is doing his job right, we shouldn't be able to tell the difference. I sincerely love this ability in a director to harness the talents of rookies, making them fit seamlessly with the pros. It ultimately gives the film a certain depth that completely drew me in.
Though JOE is a hard pill to swallow, I highly recommend checking it out in June when it is released theatrically. I may have felt like taking a Silkwood shower by the end, but JOE is definitely a film that will have you musing long past the final credits.
Until next time,
Aka "Annette Kellerman"