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Shrewsbury, Massachusetts- David Gordon Green is almost as perplexing filmmaker as Nicolas Cage is an actor. Starting out with indie hits like George Washington, Green hit big when he directed Pineapple Express which led to a brief period of studio comedies that were not as great as that first film. Then last year he released the little film Prince Avalanche, which seemed to show him returning to his indie roots. Now he has released Joe a film that looked like it could show the rise of Green and its star Nic Cage.
Joe is an ex-convict now working as a tree-cutter. He keeps mostly to himself and never goes out of his way for fear of returning to his old life. That changes when a young boy named Gary rolls into town with his family. Seeing Gary’s torrid home life, Joe begins to service himself as a role model to Gary. That is, until things start to take a turn that could lead to Joe’s ruin.
Joe is a hard film to pin down. At first glance it seems like Green and company are trying to make the next Mud: a sprawling coming-of-age tale with an unlikely role model. What happens instead is a character study that goes at a snail’s pace. Prince Avalanche was a slow character piece as well and Joe seems to be hitting all the same beats just with a different set of characters. What results is an okay movie that could be better.
The performances though are very well done. Tye Sheridan (his first big film since Mud, hence the comparisons) is continuing to grow as an actor and his work as Gary is quite good. Nic Cage is does a nice job as well as the titular Joe and shows that he still can be a good actor when he’s not making bad movies for money. The big breakout performance though is Gary Poulter as Gary’s menancing alcoholic father Wade. Poulter was an actual homeless person Green found and put in the movie (he would tragically die three months later) and his performance adds a layer of authenticity to the film.
Joe is a movie that could have been better. It’s got great moments within it, but it never fully hits the mark it wants. It takes its sweet time unraveling its story and slowing the momentum can work, but it can only take you so far. Joe is merely an okay movie, but watching it starts to become tiring after a while. It’s worth a try, but if you can’t make it through, it’s understandable.
Joe is available to watch on demand on iTunes and Amazon.