Released in 2013 ▪ Review posted April 20, 2014
“Yikes! That was rough!”
Joe is the most heavy-handed Nicolas Cage movie I’ve watched. It’s more brutal than P. T. Anderson at his cruelest. The script lacks subtlety, as does the score. The horrible events that unfold are telegraphed. The movie is exhausting to watch. This is all a pity, because Nicolas Cage knocks his performance out of the fucking park.
Joe is a raw look at alcoholism, dysfunctional families, and day laboring. The classic tale of the father in need of a son and son in a need of father plays out here, although mechanically. That’s convenient, since if Kick-Ass taught us anything, it’s that Nic can really shine as the father/mentor character. Here he plays the titular Joe, a man too smart for his surroundings, but too angry for any place else. He has a hard time staying out of prison and dealing with his emotions. Roles like this, that have Nic portray a man stewing in his emotions only to have them explode later, are his wheelhouse.
We see Nic call on his uncanny ability to convincingly play different stages of drunk while maintaining a single character. We see him fully bearded. We see him gnashing, and we see him at peace. It’s the typical Nic Cage roller coaster of emotion, but streamlined and leveled off. The valleys aren’t as low and the peaks aren’t as high. It makes the film watchable despite itself.
Come to think of it, everything about Joe seems so tuned to make the viewer uncomfortable, I started to wonder whether that was something the makers of the film set out to do. As I was musing this, the publisher of Cage Match came into my office to let me know that all the people who looked like homeless alcoholics in the movie were real-life homeless alcoholics. In fact, director David Gordon Green often casts local actors and residents in his films. Wade, the main antagonist in Joe, was played by an Austin drifter named Gary Poulter who was found dead in a pool of water before the film was released. His performance was called “one of the most indelible depictions of pure evil that you will ever see.”
Joe is an awkward, uncomfortable movie full of agony, destruction, and foreshadowing. If you can stomach it, it’s worth a watch just to remind yourself that latter-day Cage still very much has what it takes to be a great actor. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cage got another Oscar for this one.
- How was the movie?
- How was Nic Cage’s acting?
- Did his performance make the movie worse?
- Not at all