Ex-convict Joe now makes a living with a barely-legal enterprise which poisons trees so that the big companies can cut them down. Joe is like its title – direct, no frills, no embellishments – a character made rough by a cruel environment. “Joe” by David Gordon Green is a modern western story starring Nicolas Cage in the title role.
One day a boy named Gary joins the group of wood cutters led by Joe. His youthful enthusiasm serves him well despite the hard work and the hard companions. We find out that his family is in fact worse; with an absent mother, a trumatized sister and a drunken father who, like a jackal, steals and takes advantage of those weaker than him. The film follows the uncommon lives of Joe and Gary, each facing their own ghosts but each trying to find their own personal redemption. Indeed Gary becomes more and more similar to Joe as their father-son relationship develops but at the end Gary makes a choice that defines him as a completely different individual from Joe. The two characters’ paths divide never to cross each other again.
We see very little of the place where these events take place. It is in fact an enclosed reality populated by the worst sort of people. Men and animals are not so different here and that raw, earthly feel of constant threat which defines a life based on natural selection is well portrayed in the cinematography and texture of the scenes. The score is effectively ominous and the actors well embody the brutally of the story. Although it was refreshing to see Cage going back to an indie production such as this, he does not deliver the full dramatic potential of his character. Instead the scene gets often stolen by the much more convincing performances of Gary (Tye Sheridan, Mud) and his father (Gary Poulter – a non-professional actor who died in March this year).
“Joe” is a discreet film but it lacks originality and a stronger directorial presence. The plot is rather predictable and with its nearly two hours, it feels like many parts could have been sacrificed in order to add more to the characters it depicts. Still a watchable film for the fans of the genre.