A director who can radically change their style and tone is one to keep your eye on. That’s especially true when that same director can implement many different styles of theirs into one film and pull them off with excellence. Indie films and more artsy films are also tough to crack after a successful career of big budget films, but it’s not entirely impossible. When a director can grasp all of these different elements and implement them in one intriguing film, the result is a wonderful time at the theaters with a different kind of movie that gets you thinking and wanting more.
Gary (Tye Sheridan) and his family are accustomed to moving around and starting their life over in all sorts of places. During their latest move to a small town in Texas, Gary and his family end up in a trailer park home and the cycle repeats itself. Gary’s father, Wade (Gary Poulter), is an alcoholic who often abuses his family and that’s the only life that Gary knows. The only reason he sticks around is to take care of his mother (Brenda Isaacs Booth) and his sister, Dorothy (Anna Niemtschk). Upon moving, Gary seeks out a job to support his family and stumbles upon a group of workers who poison trees for lumber companies that later come in to knock them down. The group’s boss, Joe (Nicolas Cage), is an honest man who’s looking for hard workers. He hires Gary and expects hard work out of him and that’s exactly what he gets. Little does Joe know, Gary looks up to him as a role model and as a father figure. Joe notices the bruises on Gary’s face and wishes he could help, but he’s got his own past that’s full of bad decisions and that keeps him at bay.
While Gary is out working with Joe, his father spends his time wandering the streets aimlessly and trying to find a drink wherever he can find one. One day, Gary gets in a fight with a man named Willie -Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins), as he made remarks about Dorothy and what he’d do to her. Gary beats the man senseless and it also turns out that Joe had made a fool of this man too. Though Gary can beat others, he can never fend for himself against his father who takes his hard-earned money to spend it on booze. Joe, concurrently, is battling his own inner rage and spends his time with hookers and pitbull. The two are very different, but find commonalities that unite them and they form a friendship that’s beneficial to the both of them. Unfortunately, some bad men are after both of them and both of their lives and the lives of those they love are in danger. They must operate under the law, but that can be tough when people are trying to kill you. Decisions must be made and each will have to grow on their own to be a stronger force together.
Joe is the latest film from David Gordon Green and it’s by far and away my favorite film of his. This film looks at the backwoods of Texas and the kinds of people who inhabit it. The rules are different there and despite having a police force, wrongdoings still occur and there’s an outlaw sense to this town. You get a view into many different ways of life and even an odd job that serves a purpose. Familial values are present in this film, as are those of ethics and self-preservation. The crazy thing about this film is that it’s grounded in reality and never feels like a work of fiction. You can feel for these characters and picture that they exist and have the problems that they do.
Tye Sheridan is set on a path of greatness right now, as he’s been wonderful in his first three films. In Joe, he plays another Southern young boy who’s on the cusp of becoming a man. His character shared some curiously to that of his character in Mud, but he has a better sense of self in this film and he’s tough as nails. He also recognizes the reality of his family’s situation and despite his father’s beatings, he still loves him because he’s his daddy. Sheridan works hard to become the man his family needs and his more sincere moments shine when he learns to drive and he has his first beer. As old as he acts, he’s still a kid and has delicate moments that display the fact that he needs a father and someone to teach him how to live in this cruel world. His range of emotion is wonderful and he’s such an easy character to root for, because everyone’s felt the times where they needed to man up and take charge of their own life. It’s just extraordinary that a fifteen-year-old can make that fact of life so believable.
Nicolas Cage, everybody’s favorite, really does a fantastic job in this film. He’s often cited for overacting and he’s always willing to give his all and then some for a role. Here, he’s almost restrained in his simple life, except for when his fits of rage overcome him and he goes absolutely nuts. His caring demeanor is interesting to watch and he’s good to all people who are good to him. He’s cautious with his life and often spends lonely nights with paid company or with his dog. He’s a simple man who tries to lead a simple life, but he always ends up getting involved with people who could spell trouble for him. The police are always watching him and this only upsets him more. He takes a liking to Gary and sees that he’s a good kid who needs a good person to shepherd him in the right direction. While he may open Gary up to somethings that he shouldn’t, he still plays a large role in Gary’s life and in turn, feels a sense of satisfaction and self-worth. Cage, as always, has an incredible emotional range that can change in the blink of an eye and catch you off guard. He’s really great in this film and it’s one of the best performances that I’ve seen him give over the course of his career. He just needed the right direction.
As a director, David Gordon Green has gone through many changes in his career and is returning to his indie-drama roots. He played around with great comedy when he made Pineapple Express (which I love) and the had his lesser comedies, Your Highness and The Sitter. Just last year, his Inde-Drama Prince Avalanche elicited two great performances from Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch and proved that a little film about something under the radar could make waves. Gordon Green has a knack for finding real characters who hide their problems and try to be strong on the surface. His understanding of human nature I’d wonderful, as his characters are complex and conflicted with their own lives, as well as the lives of the people they care for. The backdrops for his film reflect a unique style of living that most aren’t familiar with, but he manages to settle you in nicely as he builds the world around you. His lingering shots and slick editing allow you to feel what their characters feel and understand all the different emotions that they wear on their faces. I’m liking the direction that Gordon-Green is going and he’s risen substantially through my ranks of favorite filmmakers. He’s certainly one to keep an eye on and check out.
This film’s story, as I mentioned, is one that’s unfortunately true for many people all around the world. Boys have to become men too soon and must deal with abusive and passive parents. The southern backdrop really emphasizes the simplistic way of life that some lead and the types of things that occur in their lifestyle. This backdrop allows us to better understand the characters and how they interact with their environment. Even the odd job that Joe and his workers do is explained in great detail and it gives everything a sense of purpose. Many of the film’s more confrontational moments are fueled by tension and the presence of guns and outlaw-like characters only increase that tension. The seemingly endless roads reflect that possibility of leaving everything behind, but it’s those few people who keep you grounded in a place that you know is bad for you. I really loved this strangely simple world and enjoyed seeing how the characters operate within the different facets of it. That doesn’t often happen for me and this is someplace that I’d love to explore more of.
Joe is going to be another quietly released film that not too many people are going to see and that’s just the reality of all these outstanding indie films. However, I feel like Joe could create waves and touch every person whom sees it. It’s a very fantastic film that deserves an audience and I’m hopeful that it’ll expand its release. It’s another VOD film that will allow you to watch it from home and I’d strongly consider that too. It’s got a little something for everybody and it’s a great film to analyze too. The leading performances fuel this outstanding story that Gordon-Green has crafted. I couldn’t recommend it more!