Review: Joe


Director:David Gordon Green

Cast:Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins

Running Time:117.00


Despite several marvelous scenes, Joe never gels into something completely cohesive. Instead, it's a disjointed effort but one that documents a journey of two men at a crossroads.


Nicolas Cage, finally reminding us of the genuine talent that dissipated during a series of paycheck-grabbing bottom-feeders, stars as the title character, a gentle, good-hearted man prone to outbursts of violence. He's settled into a funk of hard days and harder nights. But that all changes when Gary (Tye Sheridan) wanders into the forest where Joe is working and begs for a job for himself and his alcoholic father.

This protective instinct appears to be something new for Joe, and he doesn't quite know what to do with his newfound status as surrogate father. He buys Gary and his family groceries and teaches him to drive his pick-up and lets him sneak a few beers.

These scenes have a much-needed gentler tone. Otherwise, the movie would be horribly dark. Yet director David Gordon Green, returning to the indie world after a semi-disastrous run in Hollywood, can't find the right balance. It's sad then humorous, escalating to horrific and light-hearted.

Even though that's the movie's near-undoing, it's through no fault of the tremendous cast. Sheridan, playing a similarly moody teen to the one in Mud, often confuses posturing with toughness, even though he must show it to survive. That's because his stepfather Wade (Gary Poulter, an actual drifter from the Austin area) might be not only the worst on-screen father of the year but also the worst on-screen person of the year. He's evil personified, so a scene of him breakdancing doesn't jive with the rest of the film.

The movie bears more than a passing resemblance to Sling Blade, Billy Bob Thornton's magnificent 1996 debut. That movie had a far better control on tone than Joe does. All the characters in Sling Blade felt authentic and essential to the story. Joe has several scenes where it's unclear if we're supposed to laugh at or with these people barely making ends meet.

Regardless of these caveats, Joe remains a story with some power, humor and heart. It's also essential viewing for anyone who had (rightly) written Nicolas Cage off. It's not what it could have been, but as it stands, it's well worth seeing.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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