Joe - Online Review

'Cage's performance is comprehensively excellent, showcasing everything that's good from the actor's repertoire'.

Nicolas Cage is an actor whose range, ability and power in front of the camera I will defend to the hilt. That being said, I'm also the first to admit that Cage doesn't exactly do himself many favours at times when it comes to his choice of films in which to appear. For every Adaptation., there's a Knowing; for every Matchstick Men, there's a Next. Cage hasn't made things easy for his advocates recently however, appearing in far more cinematic turkeys than treasures in recent years. Which is why a film like Joe is such a joy to behold as a Cage fan, hailed accurately by many (myself included) as a spectacular return to form for the leading man.

Throughout Joe, Cage's performance is comprehensively excellent, showcasing everything that's good from the actor's repertoire. The first hour of the film allows Cage to expertly build up Joe as one of the most subtly real human beings seen on screen in recent years. Director David Gordon Green allows Joe to be almost absent of plot during its first half, instead allowing matters to simply follow the various elements of Joe's life. This approach in turn allows Cage a wealth of opportunity to craft one of the most finely honed performances seen from the actor in quite some time.

It also makes sure that Joe's second half provides the dramatic and emotional haymaker that it does. Whilst the opening hour presents Joe as the very definition of still waters running deep, the second hour allows Cage and Green to delve deeper into Joe's cataclysmic and fundamental flaw - that of being an emotional and violent powder keg - that eventually causes a steady downward spiral within the character's life at times heartbreaking to watch.

Green ensures that Joe is a relentlessly raw and savage piece of cinema, having his characters inhabit a consistently brutal rendering of Mississippi. It's an environment which here and there feels almost a little too hopeless, but had Green softened his approach then Joe may not have achieved the lasting impact it does. There are countless scenes and images here that will linger long in your memory, and at least a few that are liable to haunt it.

The director also surrounds Cage with a bounty of strong support. Tye Sheridan impresses at least as much as he did in Jeff Nichols' Mud, a film with which Joe shares at least a few strands of positive DNA. The chemistry between Cage and Sheridan is continually wonderful, providing both some of the film's grimmest moments as well as some of its most lighthearted: a sequence following Joe and Gary (Sheridan), half-cut on beer in the middle of the day and searching the neighbourhood for Joe's dog, is a particular highlight. Gary Poulter's turn as Wade, Gary's father, is one of the most extraordinary you'll ever experience, crafting in Wade a simultaneously pathetic, loathsome and downright frightening presence. It's a performance made all the more unique through both Poulter's background (a homeless man Green discovered whilst filming, initially offering him a small role before recognising his full potential) and his ultimate fate: the actor died only a few months after filming on Joe had been completed.

What ultimately lets Green down a little is his lack of focus, apparent here and there throughout the film but most problematic during Joe's ending. It almost feels as if the director was unsure of how to draw everything together, as the climax briefly trades in the subtlety and suggestion Green has given us for overripe thrill-based drama, even feeling for a short stretch like something from a somewhat different film. But for the vast majority of its running time, Joe is amongst the most well-crafted and brilliantly performed films of recent years, marking out Cage once again as potentially one of the finest acting talents working today.

Joe is available through early digital release on Blinkbox now.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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