“I’m Joe. I pay a day’s pay for a day’s work,” said Joe to Gary.
Nicolas Cage grows his beards in Joe, his latest slow-paced Southern gothic thriller. Joe is a Texas rural harsh drama adapted to screen by Gary Hawkins, from Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same title. Certainly, this film’s a completely new getaway for Cage and director David Gordon Green.
Cage is Joe Ransom, a cursed man whose life is neither good or bad—just cursed. He hires men to poison trees, so a company can cut them down and plant pines in return. We can’t really tell whether Joe’s a good man or not; how his men respond to him might give a glance of truth that he’s a decent man, yet, he also visits a brothel and craves for alcohol, which is not decent at all.
Joe’s encounter with a teenage boy, Gary (Tye Sheridan, also at his finest), who suddenly looks for work moves something within Joe. There’s something more about Gary that Joe cannot ignore. However, trying to “father” Gary means trying to embrace the curse, as well.
The story goes flat and slow as predicted; and how everything goes filthy in the South comes just as it is. Yet, the acting is simply the best part of it. Joe reminds us to the old Nicolas Cage we used to know—who threw away his Coppola name only to prove no nepotism. Cage plays bad, but his being bad is good (Bad Lieteunant, for instant). He convinces us that his Joe is a complex antihero, who struggles to keep the beast within him at the bay. I personally love how Cage plays insecurity in Adaptation, but here, I love how insecurity plays his character.
Opposing to Cage, Tye Sheridan peculiarly gives balance to the story. His character provides motivations to the already-complicated Joe and drives emotional state inside Joe. Sheridan’s performance is obviously a reflection to his outstanding one in Mud, in which he oppose another troubled man portrayed by Matthew McConaughey.
Slow and exhausting might be appropriate to describe the plot, in addition to predictable. Yet, it gives sufficient spaces to enrich the plot with symbolism that provides depth to the story. For instance, what Joe does for living simply reflects the redemption he has to take—how he poisons trees to plant other ones, which worth more, makes the goal of his life clear, although his sacrifice is unbearable. If you takes closer looks to Joe’s life, you’ll find more symbolisms to explain him—in case, you’re not content with this film’s conclusion.
At last, Joe’s simply a film in which bad luck is not always bad. Cage’s curse (to be good in playing bad) is his luck. Even, Gary Poulter (a homeless man who portrays Sheridan’s father)’s bad luck—as he’s found dead in a homeless camp after filming—results in incredible natural luck for this film. It’s just as heartbreaking as our characters in Joe, but also as encouraging.