Based on the 1991 book of the same name by Larry Brown, Joe is directed and produced by David Gordon Green, the filmmaker behind Pineapple Express (2008) and 2013’s Prince Avalanche. Starring Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage as the eponymous Joe, the film is set in deep, rural Texas and tells a story about the weight of responsibility.
Ex-convict and repeat offender Joe Ransom manages a small troop of workers that he carts about in his truck across various plots of land covered by bracken and sparse forest, of which he is being paid to clear by pumping poison into them. Joe certainly runs a hard business. The frequent rain and poor weather conditions mean a great deal of stress for the easily-angered Joe as he cannot always guarantee his loyal labourers a day's work.
Gary (Sheridan) wanders into the mix; he is boy of 14 living with his family in what appears to be the middle of nowhere in a legally condemned property with no money and a deadbeat father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Joe offers this unlucky kid a job and shows him the ropes, paying him an honest wage for honest day’s work, But it is not long before Gary’s alcoholic father gets involved as he discovers his son’s newfound income. Growing attached to the boy, Joe finds himself in the difficult situation of feeling compelled to get involved, but as he says “I can’t get my hands dirty in every little thing” due to his short temper and rather impressive criminal record.
Nicolas Cage is certainly known for offering a unique and energetic approach to a role. Immortalised by his involvement in such infamous films as The Wicker Man (2006) and the lesser-known yet devastatingly dreadful Deadfall (1993), Cage is known for his ability as an actor to take his roles to places where no one wants him to go to. His performances are marked by extremes of insanity that are admittedly very impressive, just not necessarily for any of the right reasons. Cage’s style has hardened in recent years, seemingly anxious to appear more reserved in his work, and Joe is no exception. Whilst the role does require outbursts of anger and violence due to Joe’s short temper, Cage remains in control of this heavily traditional lumberjack of a character. Cage is a joy to watch, his portrayal clearly resonates well with the character; there is much anger and frustration below the stoic exterior of a workingman who refuses to give up on what is important. If nothing else, Joe is evidence that Cage has finally managed to master the art of not making every character he plays seem like an escaped mental patient.
Portrayed by The Tree of Life (2011) and Mud (2012) star Tye Sheridan, Gary deals with his conflicting feelings of love for his father, the man that raised him, despite an overwhelming feeling of outrage toward him for scavenging off of his destitute family to feed his alcohol addiction. Joe’s presence soothes Gary’s internal conflict through an unspoken, nurturing father/son dichotomy as Joe spends time with him, teaching him how to drive or how to look cool for the girls.
This is transposed with Joe’s terrible decisions regarding the law and encounters with his old enemy Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins). He often lets his anger take control, lashing out and starting fights simply because he is being challenged, or at least thinks he is; this is the kind of decision-making that put him in prison. Joe recognises and soon regrets the poor example he sets for Gary in solving his problems with violence, but has difficulty accepting alternative methods. Joe also brings this simplistic mentality to his approach to romantic relationships, finding trouble with women whose ways he finds hard to understand.
We do not always get to choose our role models. Some of us might regret idolising the wrong person in our youth, whether they are a friend who led us astray or the lead singer of an embarrassing boy-band. Joe is a film about role models and their supportive, or even poisonous, effect on a budding mind. The film’s message is a grim but clear one: assuming responsibility is a duty to the people around you and, although trust can be earned, it is much harder to earn back once lost.
Joe is out on DVD Monday 6th October.