Nicolas Cage excels in powerful, grimy drama that elevates ordinary story to near-operatic heights
David Gordon Green's biggest hit, urban-stoner comedy Pineapple Express, is very much untypical of the moody, backwater dramas he directs on an annual basis, from George Washington to Prince Avalanche. Joe is another entry in his canon of accomplished miserablism, adapted from a novel by Larry Brown, with a vigorous, charismatic performance by Nicolas Cage at its centre.
Since his Oscar win in 1996, Cage's name has been synonymous with big budget tedium, but Joe finds him on the robust form of Leaving Las Vegas or Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call: New Orleans. With a rare chance to play an ordinary Joe in an extraordinarily violent community, Cage paints the working man as a noble savage, bedding prostitutes and drinking without care in the evenings, then pulling his shattered sense of himself together to lead an early-morning shift of bedraggled men into the forest, on a mission to poison and cut down unhealthy trees.
Joe has leadership qualities, both with the men he works with and the women who admire him, but he places his reputation on the line when he reluctantly takes an interest in Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenage boy whose relationship with dad G-Dawwg (Gary Poutler) shows the darker side of father issues. Joe takes Gary under his wing, but inadvertently unleashes a domino effect of violence that threatens his position in the community.
Spare, lean and tough as a swamp-land snake, Joe is a powerful, grimy drama that'll appeal to audiences who enjoyed Winter's Bone, Mud or Blue Ruin. Cage gives a huge performance, and Gordon Green keeps the action firmly rooted in domestic realities that make the periodic bursts of blood-letting even more shocking. Joe may be too bleak and unsparing for some tastes, but it's an adult, accomplished drama that elevates an ordinary story to near-operatic heights.
Screening at Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Wed 25 & Sat 28 Jun, as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Selected release from Fri 25 Jul.