MRR Review: "Joe"

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An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.
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Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Genre: Drama

The careers of actor Nicolas Cage and director David Gordon Green had become increasingly sidetracked over the years with a number of cinematic flops, but that has all changed. The smart, engaging drama "Joe" follows an ex-convict as he employs a teenage boy in his forestry business and soon becomes close friends with him despite mounting adversities. Offering genuine performances and a strong plot, "Joe" is a film that moviegoers do not want to miss.

Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage) is an ex-convict with a dark and mysterious past, and his repressed anger issues are apparent. Living in near-solitude with a bulldog as his only companion, Joe is a blue-collar worker who drinks and gambles in his free time, and he has made an enemy in a tough guy from the area (Ronnie Gene Blevins). The hard-working ex-con makes his living by poisoning entire forests in order to make room for lumber companies to plant more profitable trees, and he hires a group of laborers to assist him.

When a 15-year-old boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan) comes to Joe seeking work, Joe decides to give him a chance. He is impressed by the boy's strong work ethic, and a friendship begins to develop. It is not long before Joe discovers that Gary is more than just a drifter, as he is trying to earn money for his weary mother and mentally challenged sister. He also discovers that the boy is being beaten by his father Wade (Gary Poulter), a drunk who is stealing Gary's earnings for his own purposes.

The lives of the two characters slowly spiral into violence and brutality, and Gary seeks help from Joe when Wade's antics become too much for him to handle. Joe, however, is hesitant to help lest he get carried away and end up in prison once again. In the end, Joe must decide whether he is willing to risk everything he has worked for in order to help his new-found friend.

The premise of "Joe" sounds like familiar cinematic fare seen recently in the film "Mud," which also focuses on an ex-con who takes a boy under his wing. However, the film is surprisingly fresh in many aspects, and it becomes dark and brutal when audiences expect a more sentimental progression. The film uses drama, violence and dark humor to create a story that is engaging and memorable.

Nicolas Cage is widely regarded as a talented actor, immersing himself into every role, no matter how obscure. However, his choice in films have become more and more strange over the years, disappointing fans and leaving them bewildered. "Joe" is Cage's much-needed retribution, demonstrating the actor's powerful acting skills with an equally interesting and misunderstood character. Cage delivers an outstanding performance as Joe, sinking into his role with just the right amount of emotion and realism. The young Tye Sheridan holds his own alongside the acting legend, launching himself into a promising career future. Gary Poulter, who plays Gary's abusive father Wade, is so convincing in his representation that most viewers would not believe he was simply a local homeless person invited to work on the film. Unfortunately, Poulter died several months after the film's release.

Director David Gordon Green launched his career to the next level with films like "All the Real Girls" and "Pineapple Express," but he then began releasing a series of flops like "The Sitter" and "Your Highness." Just like Cage, Green has used "Joe" to redefine his image and reinvigorate his career. Green cast a number of unknown characters along with several stars to create a more realistic atmosphere, and the tone he sets in the Southern forests has an almost nostalgic feel. Fans are hoping that Green continues moving in the direction set by "Joe."

From the unknown actors to the subtle plot and tone, this film works to create a realistic atmosphere that never once feels staged or forced. The dialog shared by Joe's laborers seems exactly like the kind of banter one would hear in the situation, and the relationship between Joe and Gary develops without the Hollywood sentimentality common in so many other films. As a result, "Joe" is a groundbreaking cinematic achievement for filmmakers and actors alike.

"Joe" is a dramatic, gritty film that drags viewers' attention with interesting characters and a setting that feels utterly genuine. Even as the characters reveal their flaws, audiences cannot help but root for the main protagonists. The movie has provided a great turnaround point for Cage and Green, and it easily stands on its own as an overall remarkable film.