Film Review: Joe (2014)

Though not widely released, Joe has still received wide spread critical acclaim following its availability on an array of on-demand platforms. Nicolas Cage stars in the low budget drama and while that name may in recent times turn a lot of people off the film right away, let me highlight this particular performance as to Cage what 2012’s Mud was to Matthew McConaughey (even sharing a co-star in young Tye Sheridan).

This dark drama focusses on the mutually respectful relationship between Cage’s Joe and Sheridan’s 15 year-old Gary who is seeking a way of supporting his family in the emotional and financial absence of his alcoholic father. Joe has a group of workers poisoning trees and Gary is just ballsy enough to approach him and ask for a job with nothing but 45 seconds to convince Joe of his worth. The story is a little on the nose with Joe battling his demons of the past and struggling to restrain himself from returning to his former life, but the character is a clear winner up against the stereotypically demonic bad guy father Wade, played convincingly and tragically by Gary Poulter (a homeless non-actor who was found dead before the film was released). The divide between actor and non-actor is non-existent, as Poulter and Cage go toe-to-toe for whose film this is. Naturally, Cage is where the audience allegiance will lie as the protagonist of the piece but take nothing away from Poulter who gives as good as he gets against the pros.

The bond between Cage and Sheridan works well too. There are a couple of scenes in which the actors are allowed to just talk and bounce off one another and these are some of the most natural feeling of the film; without taking anything away from the written dialogue, I would not be surprised if a lot of this was improvisation. Sheridan won much praise for his performance in Mud and he is equally strong here as his character grows into a man whilst still yearning for the respect of Joe. Cage too shows some of his best work. Just as brooding and monotone as always, it fits the character of Joe nicely and the actor will, I hope, go on to choose similarly great character pieces such as this because there is no denying the guy can act.

The release of this one was strange to say the least. Usually, when a film such as this does well at festivals it either gets a wider release or swept under the carpet until someone buys the distribution rights for the home market. This time, distributors opted for a simultaneous limited cinema and on-demand release. Personally though, I hope this will be the model chosen by future films although pricing (around £8.99 to rent) and advertising choices are still an issue. Having said that, I had a much more enjoyable experience watching this than I did the last time I visited the sticky-floored, popcorn covered, nacho factory.

See Joe because Nicolas Cage is great, Tye Sheridan is great and Gary Poulter is great. The tale is one that has been told but is still enjoyable to see done well and let us hope for more of the same when it comes to releasing this type of films in places other than the cinema.

SEE IT CHEAP (shop around; it’s worth it)

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