David Gordon Green
Both David Gordon Green and Nicolas Cage needed JOE.
After dabbling in bigger budget studio fare—some successful (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS), some not (THE SITTER)—Green returned to his auteur roots with 2013's PRINCE AVALANCHE. AVALANCHE was a breath of fresh air for the director, but it was a slight film without much meat on its bones. JOE is thankfully a movie with more on its mind and more to its characters, something along the lines of Green's underrated SNOW ANGELS.
As a formerly devout Nicolas Cage fan (THE ROCK, FACE OFF and CON AIR came out during a very impressionable time in my youth), it's also great to see the actor dive so deeply in to a character once again. Though tax troubles clearly forced the Oscar-winner to have a "Say yes!" policy with his agent, he's still a very capable performer given the right material and JOE is extremely strong material.
Based on a novel by , JOE doesn't have too much in the way of a complex, eventful plot. The story centers on an ex-con simply trying to live his life. He works hard at his job, keeping busy to avoid the rage and violence of which he's capable. That plan seems to be working for Joe, until a teenage boy enters his life, looking for a job for himself and his abusive, alcoholic father. As Joe takes an interest in the kid and his situation, it leads to an introspective character study about the violence and darkness within young and old alike, and how it can overpower whatever good intentions men may have no matter how strong their resolve. The result is an Intense and brooding film that evokes a southern gothic atmosphere just waiting to boil over.
As you can imagine a movie like this hinges completely on the performances and Green has picked a stellar cast. Cage hasn't been this good in years, offering his best performance likely since 2002's ADAPTATION. (He also sports a truly magnificent beard.) The actor is absolutely blistering and brimming with anger and complication on-screen and you can feel the self-destructiveness in every second of his portrayal of the title character. Tye Sheridan (TREE OF LIFE) also does great work as Joe's young ward. His character has his own emotional issues and outbursts and Sheridan holds his own against Cage, building solid chemistry and feeding off each other's performance. Director Green also peppers the film with non-professional actors from , which lends an air of authenticity. Sheridan's father, played by an actual homeless man, gives an especially incredible performance, no doubt because he's actually lived this character in real life.
Commentary with director David Gordon Green, composer David Wingo, and actor Brian D. Mays: I can't remember the last time I heard a composer on a commentary track. As a result you get a good cross section of the filmmaking process from each of the individuals featured. Green covers his side of the process adapting from the source material; Mays discusses working with Cage and his unique methods for getting in to character, while Wingo goes in to detail on his take with the film and inspiration for the score. An informative track worth listening to for fans of the film.
Making of JOE (11:15): This is a fairly standard piece, bouncing back and forth between interviews with cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage. Some introspection is given to the character-driven element of the movie, but you're liable to get more out of the commentary track.
The Origins of JOE (15:55): This longer featurette covers the source novel behind the film, giving a history of the author's work and screenwriter Gary Hawkins' process for adapting it to the screen—what stayed true to the book and what they had to change.
Deleted Scenes (2:43): Two short scenes featuring the alcoholic father character Wade. While I like the actor's performance, neither of these belonged in the finished film.
An UltraViolet digital download is also included.
JOE is a welcome return to form for both David Gordon Green and Nicolas Cage. Had it gotten a wider release, it surely would have garnered Oscar attention for both its stars. If you dig character-driven stories, this is a sure bet.
Extra Tidbit: Gary Poulter, a real-life homeless man who gave a powerful performance as Tye Sheridan's father Wade, died on the streets of Austin shortly after filming was completed.