Watching Joe, the latest film by director David Gordon Green, feels like you’ve found a hidden gem in the film industry. Despite the fact that Green is now a member of the Texas Film Hall of Fame, has directed a hit comedy with Seth Rogen and James Franco and is working on the hit HBO comedy Eastbound & Down, his latest film feels like you’re discovering a new artist.
And it’s not like Joe is a major departure from Green’s previous work. It displays some of his favorite tropes, such as filming in a rural setting, portraying the growth of unlikely friendships, and characters striving to overcome a troubled past. But a mix of opposing tones and a unique blend of actors creates an exciting new creation from Green.
The film follows Nicholas Cage as Joe Ransom, an ex-con with hidden rage that he struggles to keep in check. When a teenager named Gary, played by Tye Sheridan, moves into town with his family of drifters, Joe finds himself making an unlikely friend, while also trying to protect Gary from the danger of his abusive, alcoholic father.
It’s easy to see the film as a dark and foreboding drama, but the Southern Gothic tone plays together with some legitimately funny moments that break the tension. Joining the amazing duo of Cage and Sheridan on screen is an extensive cast that creates a believable rural Texas environment. If you can count the number of traffic lights in your hometown, you'll feel right at home in Joe.
You may laugh at the way Joe’s team of workers shoot the bull or his special fatherly bonding time with Gary, but suspense and darkness quickly spring up to switch emotional gears on the viewer. While the darkness functions as an example of how sleepy small towns belie the horror that lurks below the surface, it also serves as a reflection of Joe’s inner struggle. He’s a man who wants to work hard and enjoy a simple life, but when pushed around enough, his rage will boil over and wreak major havoc in its wake.
And Cage is the perfect fit for Joe due to that personality. He has a cult following among film buffs for his notorious talent with explosive and insane outbursts on screen. Yes, people will applaud Cage for being more subdued in Joe, but don’t think that his special brand of crazy won’t find a way to shine through.
But Cage isn’t the only actor shining on screen. Sheridan, a Texas native who boasts working with Matthew McConaughey and Terrence Malick in his young career, can be seen as a foil for the gruff Joe with his more youthful and exuberant personality. But he’s also similar to Joe, in that he is struggling to repress his frustrations with the world and his troubled family.
Joe isn’t a revolutionary film for the director and his actors, but there’s still a sense that it’s an important stepping-stone for everyone involved. Both troubling and humorous, Joe signals that Green still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
Joe is scheduled to release in theaters on April 11, 2014.