Written by Gary Hawkins
Directed by David Gordon Green
Despite his early filmography making him a critical favourite and causing film lovers to sing his praises, David Gordon Green’s recent ventures have moved sharply away from such films. The same can be said of Nicolas Cage, who has unfortunately been rendered something of a punchline by his recent performances, with few remembering his memorable turns in features like Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation. However, both make a return to their career roots through working together for the first time in Joe, and both manage to show what made them so well-acclaimed in the first place in this compelling drama.
The movie does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of an isolated place, particularly with the cinematography. A feeling of entrapment, and of a detachment from the world at large, is conveyed wonderfully, and adds an air of frightening authenticity to the proceedings. There is also a strong sense of being left behind by time that lingers throughout the movie, adding another layer to the character decisions and subsequent consequences.
The performances in the movie are also a highlight. As the titular ex-con and tree poisoning business owner Joe, Nicolas Cage turns in a great performance that stands as a powerful reminder of his acting prowess, as his understated yet multi-faceted performance carries the film. However, holding his own with Cage and announcing himself as someone to look out for is Tye Sheridan, who plays Gary Jones, the neglected teen who forms a bond with Joe. With a resume that already includes working with Terrence Malick and Jeff Nichols, Sheridan establishes his considerable talents once more, managing to convey the anger and desperation of his character in a heartbreakingly genuine manner that never once rings false, and very nearly assures he will be a major presence before long.
Overall, this is an excellent movie that manages to effectively tackle major themes and illustrate character parallels without beating the audience over the head, yet leaves the viewer thinking long after the movie has ended. Despite the bleakness of the overall story, one of working class struggle and despair in the South, the film manages to have effective moments of levity as well that prevent it from becoming overwhelming, and it never drags at any point, earning its two-hour run-time. The actions of the major characters never feel at odds with what the film has established regarding their personalities, and the movie is another compelling entry into David Gordon Green’s dramatic oeuvre, and particularly worth seeing for people who may have written off Cage. Hopefully a wider audience gets a chance to do so sooner rather than later.
– Deepayan Sengupta
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.