Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mentoring, southern style: Nicolas Cage & Tye Sheridan star in David Gordon Green's JOE

It would appear to be all here: Nicolas Cage in what looks like a role that might put him back in form, after so many mediocre movies; Tye Sheridan, one of those two kids who was so very good in Mud, a little older now, this time in a near-starring role; and director David Gordon Green, going back to his roots (Undertow) to bring us another piece of Southern Gothic pie. The film starts off well, too. Everything seems in place for one hell of a ride: two heroes (one young, the other growing old), villains (two again: the fucked-up father of all time and a scarface creep with anger management problems), and the despoiled countryside where our boys make their living destroying the environment. What a world!

And yet, by the time that JOE, the new film from Mr. Green (shown at left), reaches its obvious and predestined conclu-sion, it has become an unmitigated disaster: bloated, bilious, depen-dent upon cliche and coincidence, full of heavy-handed southern miserablism and violence for violence's sake, and then -- say it ain't so, Joe -- a sentimental end. Worst of all, it gives free-rein to Green's least ability as a director: to form his narrative into a satisfying whole and guide it to conclusion. As solid as everything seems at the beginning of this film, by mid-point, it has hopped the track. From there, things only grow worse.

The silliest portions of the film are devoted to that scarface character, played by Ronnie Gene Blevins (shown above, left). who certainly gives it his all and who keeps appearing from out of nowhere, time and again, just long enough to do something loud and nasty before disappearing again for a spell.  It's all so convenient -- and annoying. (The screenplay is by Gary Hawkins, adapted from the novel by Larry Brown.)

The film begins as Gary (young Mr. Sheridan, above) tells off his father, then cuts to Joe (Mr. Cage, below, center), as he begins his workday, leading a band of black men as they place poison into healthy trees so that the trees will die and the lumber company paying Joe and his crew can then chop them down and clear the land. Neat.

Once Joe and Gary connect, it's clear that a ton of mentoring is about to go down. Which it does. Along the way we meet the barely-there women: a brothel of whores, a bad mother, a sad sister and the young woman who comes to Joe for protection. None of them register strongly at all. This is a man's movie, doncha know.

Gary's nasty and drunken dad is played by first-time actor Gary Poulter, below, whom the filmmaker, known for his casting of locals, found homeless on the street. Poulter is dynamite; his performance is the single strongest thing in the film, and it will be his only one, as the fellow died on the Texas streets only weeks after filming had concluded.

Otherwise, the movie belongs to Cage and Sheridan, and both are very good: Cage looking buffed and beefy, with a mat of gray hair on his chest, and Sheridan having now grown into young manhood from his Mud boyhood, while holding onto his innocence nicely. The two work together very well and provide the bond the movie finally makes central. If only Green and Hawkins had been able to create something more original for these character to act out. A little melodramatic Southern miserablism goes a long way.

Joe, from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions and running a lengthy 117 minutes, will open this Friday, April 11, here in New York City at the AMC Empure 25, the Angelika Film Center, the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, and on VOD and iTunes. To learn if the film is playing anywhere near you, click here, enter your zip code and click on GET TICKETS AND SHOWTIMES.

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