Joe : A Film Review

imageDirector:David Gordon Green, USA, 2013, 1hr57mins, Drama, Cast:Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter.

Deep South Hotheaded Guy New cards please.

Are you after ‘residually serious moments’ for contemplative special insight delivered at a slow pace? A critic suggests this is a return to a promising style of direction by David Gordon Green after a detour into the wider audience diet of comedic films and TV.

The critic, – (I don’t class myself as a critic, being more interested in unravelling the morality tales and seeing life inflections in cinema having the nerve to expose things we normally eschew and fail to confront) – tells of this film as ‘slow cinema is no more real than fast cinema.’ Having taken cinema wholly to heart as unreal I guess that is why I cannot become a critic. The critic goes onto elaborate – ‘It is another artificial convention.’ Getting it both ways is a critics preserve.

The detour took David Gordon Green away from needless comparisons with Terrence Malik and Tree of Life a 12a was also set in Texas with a male figure from a fractured background. It was intimate and epic while this is Intimate and constrained. Would you say Brad Pitt and Sean Penn carried that film! Such is the limitation of markers. I would also say it is good for a director to put himself between other film gates by trying other very different film ‘topics’.

The Masterstroke

The first thing to rave about in this film is the placing of the fine actor Nicholas Cage in the central role as Joe, a man who looms over his own shadow brooding about what he sees in himself. What he sees is more instinctively reached as he had time previously in the penitentiary for accidentally on purpose putting a hole on a knee-cap of someone. His physicality is in good shape which fits the part perfectly. So much is played out through the ‘moves’ and body language. He has learnt of to express exactly how he feels. Only when he is within snapping distance of exacting violence does he conceal the red hot fire inside. There is a formative scene well into it that has him giving improvisation lessons to his unsentimental nurturing of Gary, Tye. His co-star described below. The dialogue seems to be off the cuff every now and again which gives the spoken word authenticity and the scenes slip accordingly smoothly on.

Texas Tapestry

He is cast as the ex-criminal reformed and in and out of potentially settling into the rural Southern normal not so routine lives many find their reward in. This is rural rolling Texas we guess, with him living the woodsman’s life in a illegal scheme for cutting down trees. It is kind of legal to remove them as they have to be dead and well he and his gang of around eight easy going black workers have the method worked out. The lack of racial tension is nuance against disadvantage.

Bad Moves.

David Gordon Green sets about interleaving the live of Joe with another group based around Gary, Tye Sheridan, a 15 year old whippet of a lad with quicksilver thought and imbued respect of his place in the order of things ingrained by self preservation perhaps through living with his family of drifters who are homed up as spent cartridges empty and alcoholic. Tye Sheridan is equal to the acting of Cage which is saying something. Joe becomes aware of the abusive father, literally a drafted in hobo Gary Poulter, cleaned and set into bat redirtied as a thoroughly hateful a vengeful father.

I wonder how the interview and screen test went for that. What an exploitative ex-homeless story this casting is given the performance is formulaic and shows little in the way of acting ability sadly.

Watching a hobo play a hobo is like watching iron fillings scratching across a plate towards a magnet. Simple as.


Gordon Green layers the separate lives on top of each other as the book may have done. It is very compelling with each spoken off screen thought of Joe mirrored in the figurative actions in Gary’s home struggles. Joe is seen flat out on his couch complete with a hound dog ‘throw’ across its back where he lies after the graft and the King size bourbon bottle has dispensed a few measures.

He coughs as an ex prisoner with nothing to do all day but roll a few ounces. A recurring weakness which his box zippo adds amusement to. The interweave is handled remarkably well, not over played, nothing is, everything is straight up in your face material. It is accomplished deftly and the filmography places each location on message and directorilly astute. Joe is a sociable guy and can’t give up his whorehouse calls nor his dogs dependancy on him. It is an American Bulldog Bitch that lives under the stoop on a chain of only so many links and is a loud doorbell when any visitor calls

It seems this scarred dog is the only female he doesn’t treat like shoes. An ex-girlfriend re-friends him and he kind of puts a marker down for her not to get to homey.He is not in the least unkind except the whole nine yard misogyny.

What makes this film exceptionally compelling and challenging is that it deals with the cockamamey nutcases around the next boardwalk and on the junked veranda in a frame of Joes normal life. He has to sit on, rationalise his new found controllable framework. It is key and is on the edge always. In his own words, again a self intelligent diagnosis, he craves restraint. Having the job, the team working for him is the day time restraint.

Where does this film go?

Texas has a lot of road and we are on that road often as the circles and tailgated jobbing careworn people carrier – it is a lodestone for the film – I loved it and Gary loves it – is has the wheels to go the dirt track route, the backwoods homestead route and a well visited Madison County type river crossing bridge. Except this has seen better days. The types and suspension look too well cared for though as it throttles over various terrain and has the survival qualities like the dog.

The film is totally about Joe staying out of trouble while he leads the life he is dealt with little rancour. There are several black twists in the closely held script with a very, very, Texan (apologies ye all) twist close to the end. The darkness enters and is played out in headlights.

David Gordon Green holds this film together cohesively with a fine acting performance with few flaws. The creative storytelling marks out Joes life as close as imagined in a contemporary social depression. The metaphors in use closing this film are practically kitsch irony and heavily laden with bathos of a black comical kind. it would be wrong to put the film down as a misanthropic dilettantes Texas black art film. It may even ratchet it up a notch or two. It does it for me on reflection.

Trees grow on you when your not looking. Be prepared for the odd placement of social piraña psychology and screen central satire. Gary becomes a focal point with his pathological father becoming jealous of Gary’s independance and wear-withal. The forest is where the gang, the deforesters, Joe, Gary’s world becomes isolated and the team act as a team. A few more minutes could have been spent as a few of the team in the odd scene were clueless at the job.


The clearance and ruthless finality raising these trees in the forest and seeing his orders followed by his team gives him this overbearing pseudo spiritual presence over the small kingdom that is the forest. The workers stick a poison to kill the tree which also signifies their subsequent uprootedness. The trees are a useless species and they make way for standard pine. Pinewood. Are we near Pseuds corner yet.

A mid review aside!

A weird sideline, Saturday I learnt the local go to shop Gardening wise no longer stocked stump removal chemical. I hadn’t know such a destructive thing was on sale. It does and is not stocked as the shop 50 or so years on the particular road has to close as corporate supermarkets are killing their business so relocation is deemed the answer. The life of that tree is uprooted to be planted elsewhere.


For this film to work Nicholas Cage has to render himself into this brooding soul whose moral equipment goes missing frequently. The shoring and misogyny is ever present and he feels at home in the forest. Of his formative background we know little and the director one suspects might be having a bold look at another pasture in The Tree of Life.

Only metaphorically I suspect but none the less David Gordon Green is establishing a reputation once again in the same mould. Raising the formative years question relates to a core element of the story. A young man comes to him with only a sharpness of attitude but Joe gives this troubled youngster a job as he is conscious of the difference it could make to Gary, acted assuredly and convincingly (real!) by Tye Sheridan.

He proves invaluable and hard working straight away with this proving an asset to Joe whose underlying paternal guidance and protection skills kick in. The critic (PB) for aficionados lamely says Nicholas Cage ‘carries’ the movie. For the sake of points accreditation of the film you could say Joe is level with David’s directorship without which the performances would not command our immersion in this beautifully dark at most times melancholic of spirit but invigorates me with once again a feeling of the importance of environmental balance which is reverentially foremost here. Gary is also on this level and commanders his own place in the story and responds to the old hand that is Nicholas Cages robust actorial confoundingly convincing dynamic. Leaving Las Vegas has been mentioned as his last best performance. Maybe so.

I think it was a brilliant film which Mike Figgis realises (sic) a dream like operatic semi human performance from Nicholas Cage. It was like an ensemble performance almost of the recently late lamented namesake John Cage in its singular epoch visionary take of the US depicted. Elizabeth Shue was the angel at his side and a vision of unreal womanly beauty. I remember broken glass as the defining watershed. Reality behaves like unreality in our world and unreality turns on us. They say, cliche?, that each perceived view is different, making it a blessing when the lines converge sufficiently for a common value to be obtained and shared.


This is a terrific powerful film with very strong performances also from the supporting cast.  The police and gang leader for example.  The hobo is not a good depiction as it is derivative and hackneyed even though Poulter knows exactly what he conveys.  He has a golf swing he practices often and Ian Poulter need take no tips from him.  Apart from the mess he inhabits it is electric and harrowing with twists, as I say very Texan right up to the off the wall, road end.


Worth seeing a few times Cage and Tye are brilliant except one bit I wasn’t convinced by of Cages very near the end. Can’t tell.  Good viewing.


John Graham

30 July 2014


QFT begins in August and they may rebook it as I think it will be popular.

See latest programme.


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