David Gordon Green and Nicholas Cage return to their independent roots with Joe, the story of an ex-con struggling to stay away from trouble who befriends a boy whose dad is an aggressive alcoholic.
Green has returned from Hollywood, where in recent years he made crowd-pleasers Pineapple Express and Your Highness, to adapt Larry Brown’s novel, a typical Texas-set drama. Bringing in non-actors and only a couple of high profile stars – Cage and Tye Sheridan – Joe has the realist-feel that marked out Green’s early films, All The Real Girls and George Washington.
Nicholas Cage shows us he’s capable of subtlety (as well as rage) playing Joe, whose temper simmers until he sees injustice. He drinks and smokes incessantly, and keeps his angry bulldog chained up (like his temper) ready to be unleashed at any moment.
Tye Sheridan plays the boy he befriends, moving on from his turn in Mud (2013). Sheridan shows he can handle more dramatic roles, here playing a teenage stuck in an impossible family situation where he’s regularly beaten up by his dad for liquor money and must protect his sister and mum who are unable to defend themselves.
The non-actors are all excellent too, in particular Gary Poulter, who plays the dad in question. Previous to being cast, Poulter was homeless and a heavy drinker and subsequently was found dead in a puddle three months after filming. Because of this, his role could be the most realistic portrayal of an alcoholic on screen (most probably because he wasn’t acting).
Joe has an intensely dark atmosphere and stays with you long after it’s over. Although it’s a slow build while we get to know the characters, Poulter creates a dramatic twist later on that’s worth waiting for, as well as Cage’s inevitable violent outburst, which never disappoints.
Joe is in UK cinemas from July 25.