A popular view is that humanity is unfit for this world. It has been examined many times throughout art. In the Larry Brown novel, Joe (1991), David Gordon Green adeptly utilizes rural syntax and naturalistic setting to express heady themes about man’s capacity for rage, violence, and viciousness. Very prevalent in rural areas is the cycle of poverty and it’s ability to breed and inbreed that bubbling sense of primal rage that so much art has contemplated upon.
Gary (Tye Sheridan), a tough nosed boy on the cusp of manhood, lives with his family deep in poverty. Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), a gruff but fair man, struggles to keep his violence and temper at bay. While working for Joe poisoning trees that nobody wants to make way for more profitable pine, Gary has to deal with his abusive, drunk father Wade played impeccably horrific by Gary Poulter. Naturally, it leads to a relationship with Joe as they develop a genuine father/son dynamic. However, darker agents out of their control come into play.
This refers not only to external conflicts, but also the hugely inner one grappled with throughout the film. Growing from boyhood into a man is accompanied with a tragic loss of innocence. At times, this growth is warped by people and surroundings. Joe stunningly draws parallels between the nature of man and the world around them; from the trees and rain to the dogs, everything is vicious and primal. There is always a struggle and subsequent failure in fighting basic natures.
Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan brilliantly capture both Gary and Joe’s inherent rage and the want but inability to not give into it. After Prince Avalanche at last year’s SXSW, Green returns with a stunning and emotionally powerful film with violent grit.