In 1995 Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his performance as the suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas. It was without doubt one of his finest performances. Since then he’s been in action films, comedies, blockbusters and smaller Indie films. Even when the film isn’t up to the standard of the actor, Cage always gives his best performance. He never shies away from trying something new or taking a risk, if he thinks it will pay off, and even if it doesn’t pay off, I think it’s gutsy for him to make the effort to not just be the same in every film. Not all of his films are of the highest standard, but I enjoy the vast majority of them. He’s a frequent actor and over the years he’s had a varied career. I believe he is one of the finest actors we have. In Joe, he is once again a heavy drinker, and once again his performance is Oscar-worthy.
Joe is set in Texas. It’s a film of poverty, domestic violence, fighting dogs, long-held grudges, bar-room fights and brothels. Joe Ransom is played by Nicolas Cage. He’s a complex and interesting character. He’s strong willed and can be prone to aggression and violence. He’s a heavy drinker and has a serious problem with authority. But he’s also thoughtful, kind and caring.
Gary Jones (Tye Sheridan) is a young lad looking for work for him and his waster father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Joe hires them both but only Gary works hard. Wade argues with other workers and slacks off. He’s basically an alcoholic, waster, scumbag. Joe says he no longer needs them around, but Gary asks for another chance if his Dad is out of the picture. Joe sees that Gary is a good hard working lad and that his Dad is abusive and he begins to develop a paternal bond with the lad.
It’s a well written and carefully directed film, in which all of the characters are complex and intricately written. It needed a trio of strong performances. Cage puts in an excellent performance - real and honest, he immerses himself in the role. He never overplays the character. Sheridan also produces a great performance, from getting beaten by his father to beating up one of the bad guys in the film himself, he feels genuine and gritty. He will no doubt have learnt a lot from Cage. Poulter, a non-professional actor, also convinces in his role, despite his lack of experience. Director David Gordon Green found Poulter on the streets (literally homeless) of Austin Texas and cast him. I’m not a fan of non-professional actors appearing alongside professional actors. But here, it works. Sadly Poulter died not long after filming finished.
In one scene of extreme violence and brutality, Wade desperate to steal alcohol from a homeless man, murders him brutally. It’s a gruesome scene, yet nonetheless appropriate to the story.
By the end, there are several deaths, some sort of justice and a feeling of hope.