What could a man say about “Joe”? Well, many things. That he was realistic, down to earth, working class chic, and devoid of melodramatic intents yet still pure on the inside. Incidentally, the same could be said of Joe the movie, Nicolas Cage’s 2014 drama co-staring Tye Sheridan. Directed with finesse and an artistic flare, the film was one of the more welcome movies involving poverty and ‘pulling one’s self from your bootstraps’ mythology.
The story is that of Joe, a reformed criminal trying his best to make it on the outside. Running a small business clearing land for paper companies (so they are able to cut down weak tress and plant strong ones suitable to be cut), Joe specializes in both poison and running a motley crew of laborers. Day in and day out his life is drab. He brings his employees to the work site, clears the land, then returns home to rest; his only diversion when local trouble, taking the form of both old acquaintances and police, try and run him down. This is his routine until young Gary wanders into a work site one day. A drifter who struggles to care for his sister against an abusive father, Gary is a teenager who epitomizes what it means to be a self-made man. Doing his best as the youngest laborer there earns him respect and soon he and Joe form a bond which is destined to surmount a social nightmare as vivid as it is real for far too many people.
This is the basic story and there isn’t much more to it than that. This is because “Joe” is based off of the book by Larry Brown. Indeed, as with any novel revolving around a troubled character, the case study is emotionally intrinsic. No grand dramas or space operas or epic fantasies are needed and that is the strength. Everything about the film backs up this premise: the music is orchestra-oriented and inserts the mood. The lighting emphasizes the music which by the time the ‘up close and personal’ mise-en-scene reveals the interpersonal tragedy, the audience truly knows the extent of the powerhouse performance given by the cast.
So needless to say I loved “Joe.” Lightly dark, humorous at times, and instilled with profundity, the entire concept of the movie works out wonderfully. Any fan of realistic stories will like Joe. Yes, there is a perilous lack of giant robots fighting space bugs and alien woman with four arms, but what it lacks is undoubtedly its strong feature.