I get a little irritated and defensive when people scoff at the announcement of one Nicolas Cage. They roll their eyes, or often throw out a dismissive quip. And when I try to defend him, I can see the looks in my friend’s eyes as they start to wonder why they trusted my opinion about film in the first place.
Yeah, I get it, it’s the persona he has helped create, and from watching bits like SNL’s (hilarious) ‘Get in the Cage’ it looks like he gets it too. The public’s fascination with his personal life intricacies aside, most people have caught up to the fact that for some time now a high percentage of films Cage puts out are, as the French say, crap. It’s also the velocity that Cage put those films out. Since the year 2000 Nicolas Cage has starred in 33 films and which only 10 of those films were considered ‘fresh’ on the Rotten Tomatoes meter (fresh is defined by at least 60% of film critics positively reviewing a film). Take it one step further, from the year 2007 to 2012 (the height of Cage’s image problems) out of the 14 films he amassed only 2 were RT positive, which is only a paltry 14% success rate for the actor’s movies.
If any other actor had those statistics their career would only be VOD, but Cage is the exception to the rule. Because, lest you forget, Cage is such a tremendous actor and when you get that diamond in the rough- an Adaptation, Bad Lieutenant, or Leaving Las Vegas (one of my favorite performances of all time), it makes up for all the Season of the Witch, Stolen, and Ghost Riders (both versions) of the world. I believe Cage may never reach big studio trustworthiness again, but independent directors will always take a chance on him, knowing that his talents can take their vision to greater and even legendary heights.
Thank goodness David Gordon Green took that chance on Cage. Green, who started out with smaller pictures (George Washington, Snow Angels), moved on to larger fare with one of the best comedies in the last 10 years with Pineapple Express and one of the worst comedies in the last 10 years with Your Highness, only to transition back to the smaller fare in the wonderful mood piece Prince Avalanche and now the even moodier and exponentially more violent Joe.
Based off the Larry Brown novel, Cage plays the title character Joe, a man who is owned by his simmering temper, and as his characters explains, “the only thing that keeps him alive is restraint”. When a teenaged Gary, played by the remarkably talented youth Tye Sheridan (Tree of Life, Mud), and his dirt poor family wander into town, the young man finds employment with Joe, who hires out people by the day to poison weak trees for the lumber company to clear out. When Joe and Gary form a bond of friendship, Joe’s restraint is tested by Gary’s monstrous drunk of a father.
This is a ferocious performance from Cage; he so fully embodies this bruiser that the megastar so easily disappears into the brute. There is a restraint from Cage that Green is powerfully able to harness. Films like Joe justify my faith in Cage’s talents. On top of that, Tye Sheridan never ceases to amaze; the sky’s the limit for this young actor who reminds me of a young Leonardo DiCaprio.
While I give high praise to both those actors it’s Gary Poulter’s performance as Gary’s abusive father Wade who will long haunt my cinematic memories. This was Poulter’s one and only film credit, who Green discovered at a bus stop and who suffered from alcoholism himself and tragically died a few months after shooting from the addiction. Poulter is so real on screen it’s scary. Not really acting, as if you’ve ever seen the demons of a drunk manifesting themselves, you’d know Poulter brought them out in every shot that captured him.
The film’s violence is striking, almost to the point of being distracting. Savage moments that are left in front of us for way too long, eventually making us question the truthfulness of the the characters’ actions. Green also indulges a tad too much with the oddness of his somber South Texas characters, but Cage and Sheridan always rein it back in.
Joe is a film you can’t take your eyes off of and proof that Nicolas Cage is worth betting on.
Take a Drink: whenever Joe is angry about a dog.
Take a Drink: whenever Wade takes a drink.
Take a Drink: whenever Joe gets in a physical altercation.
Down a Shot: when Wade pops n’ locks.