A little over a year ago, one of the finest coming-of-age movies of the 21st century was released, in Jeff Nicholl’s remarkable drama Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey, and Tye Sheridan in the lead role: a young kid who idolises a flawed adult, with a naïve and idealistic outlook that allows for him to see the good in his new role model. Well, David Gordon Green’s drama Joe bears a hugely similar premise, and just so happens to have Sheridan again in the supporting role. The problem is though, this isn’t nearly as accomplished a piece of cinema.
Nicolas Cage takes on the eponymous lead role: a former convict, who is feared, revered and disliked amongst his community, with the latter most applicable to the local law enforcement. While Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins) finds the courage to start a conflict with Joe, he has other problems to contend with too, as he brings the young Gary (Sheridan) under his wing, giving the kid a job to take him away from his abusive, alcoholic father (Gary Poulter).
Where Joe triumphs is in the mood and desolate ambiance that Green has created. It’s not too far removed from the host of intriguing, Southern American set pictures of late, such as Cold in July and Killer Joe. That being said, the character of Joe himself is rather conventional and emblematic of the traditional antihero. Cage is fantastic in the role though, and brings about a sense of humility, while you believe in why people would be afraid of him, as he carries such charisma and authority that you, similarly to Gary, can’t help but respect him, in spite of his distinct imperfections. Another noteworthy performance comes from Gary Poulter, who, incredibly, was just a homeless man on the streets before being discovered to play this part – which he does with a significant amount of conviction, making for a truly tragic case.
Though Joe doesn’t feel like anything particularly new, or unique, it’s a commendable effort from Green, who continues to impress in more dramatic surroundings, moving away from comedies he has made such as Pineapple Express and Your Highness to display an aptitude for the darker side of cinema. And long may it continue.