Butler County Times Gazette
  • Nicolas Cage delivers great performance in ‘Joe’

  • Nicolas Cage delivers his best performance in a decade in “Joe”, a vivid Southern drama about an ex-con who befriends an abused boy and becomes an unlikely father figure. Ridiculed in recent years for some of the most oddball acting ever to appear on a movie screen, Cage stages a comeback with what is sure to go down as one of his most beloved characters.
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  • Nicolas Cage delivers his best performance in a decade in “Joe”, a vivid Southern drama about an ex-con who befriends an abused boy and becomes an unlikely father figure. Ridiculed in recent years for some of the most oddball acting ever to appear on a movie screen, Cage stages a comeback with what is sure to go down as one of his most beloved characters.
    Like some of David Gordon Green’s previous movies (“George Washington”, “Undertow”), “Joe” takes us to impoverished parts of the country that other movies ignore. Along with his father, mother and sister, a 15-year-old named Gary (Tye Sheridan) moves to a small town in the rural South. Gary’s father (Gary Poulter) beats him and verbally abuses him in scenes that are difficult to watch but necessary to establish the stakes involved.
    Gary finds work on a forest crew run by Joe, and the movie quickly becomes as much about Joe as it is about Gary. We soon learn this is a man with a fierce sense of right and wrong, but that doesn’t keep him from getting into fist-fights with the law. It also doesn’t keep him out of the local brothel, where everyone but a loud, mean dog welcomes him as a regular.
    It’s not until the movie’s shocking and violent first act break that we come to understand just how dangerous Joe is. He’s just barely keeping his violent impulses in check. “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” he says. “Keeps me out of jail. Keeps me from hurtin’ people.”
    Two men will test that restraint. One is Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who gets into a bar fight with Joe one night and brings a shotgun to their next encounter. Willie-Russell “went through a windshield four o’ clock one morning,” and whatever sense of morality he once may have had apparently went out the window with him. This is a remarkable performance by Blevins, terrifying in its suggestion of the kind of man Joe would be without his strong moral code.
    Even more remarkable is Poulter as Gary’s father, a fall down drunk who’s capable of much worse than we initially think. A homeless alcoholic in real life who’d never had a major acting role before, Poulter died shortly after filming was complete. I’m not sure much of his performance could be called “acting,” but the unconventional casting choice paid off, giving us one of the most ferocious dads in recent movies.
    Cage avoids his usual showy strangeness, inhabiting the character of Joe better than any role he’s played since “Adaptation.” Sheridan (“The Tree of Life”, “Mud”) continues to be one of our most naturalistic young performers.
    Page 2 of 2 - The movie builds to a bloody climax, and a few characters come to violent ends that you won’t soon forget. Green and his longtime cinematographer, Tim Orr, once again work their magic with location shooting that finds harsh beauty in the rough terrain. This is one of the year’s best movies.
    “Joe” is available to watch via movies on demand.

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