There comes a time in one’s career – hell, one’s life even – where you wake up, look in the mirror, realize how far you’ve fallen, and decide you’re either going to be remembered for what you’ve done lately or you’re going to pick yourself up, throw on your Sunday best, and re-establish yourself. Welcome back, Nicolas Cage, we’ve missed you.
I wholeheartedly believe that Nic Cage woke up one morning, looked at himself in a broken mirror in a bathroom of a single-wide trailer somewhere and decided he was tired of making shit movies. Tired of living movie paycheck to movie paycheck. In that moment, the Nic Cage we all remember from Raising Arizona and Adaptation was re-born. The actor who made terrible films such as Knowing, Drive Angry, and Seeking Justice ceased to exist, gone to another land, far from what we know as Hollywood. Joe is Nic Cage’s re-birth, his reintroduction of himself to cinema-goers everywhere.
Joe is the type of film that Nic Cage needed in order to make a comeback. In the film Cage plays the titular character, Joe, a honest-to-goodnees good guy – but one who’s made some mistakes. He’s an alcoholic, but he’s trying to do better. He’s got his own tree poisoning crew working for him doing manual labor. Guys who respect Joe for who he is and not for what he’s done, and Joe treats them right. He’s a boss you’d want to work for if you did manual labor for a living. He’s got his demons, and he’s got his enemies. But you know what, Joe’s not looking for the trouble that wants to follow him. Everything appears to be going swimmingly until a 15 year old boy named Gary (Ty Sheridan) shows up looking for work so he can support his mute sister and abusive alcoholic father. Joe gives Gary a chance and quickly sees that Gary is a hard worker who’s just looking for a chance to prove himself. Throughout the film Joe plays the father-figure to Gary until a showdown with a man from Joe’s past and Gary’s father proves to be Joe’s breaking point.
It’s Joe’s and Gary’s relationship that is the true magic of the film. Joe goes out of his way to make sure Gary is doing things the right way, taking care of his sister, putting food on their table. However, Gary is trying to maintain his relationship with his own father while slowly trying to separate himself from the abusive relationship he’s in. Time and time again Gary shows up at Joe’s door step with cuts and bruises on his face and body from where his father has beat him up, and it’s the restraint that Joe tries to have that makes the film really push through. Joe is constantly telling everyone who asks that it’s “not my problem” and “I can’t get into everyone’s business”. Only when Joe realizes that Gary is himself, at the age of 15, does Joe decide to intervene. Now, the film doesn’t only exploit Joe and Gary’s relationship, it also exploits Joe’s relationship with his own troubles. The problem he has with alcohol, the problem he has with authority, the nagging – short temper that he’s constantly trying to control. Joe is a complex character wrapped in a story of anger and redemption.
Nic Cage may be the star of the show here, but it’s Tye Sheridan that steals some of the limelight. You might recognize Sheridan from another Louisiana-based film – Mud – that redeemed another promising actor’s career. I guess you can officially call Tye Sheridan the “fountain of youth for struggling actors”. Sheridan helped resurrect Matthew McConaughey’s career when everyone had written McConaughey off. Mud was our introduction to Sheridan, Joe is his coming out party. It’s not hard to see Sheridan being cast in big budget films in the years to come. He’s going to attract big name directors helming big name projects. He’s that good.
Speaking of Mud, you could almost label Joe as it’s spiritual successor. The stories are similar but not quite the same, the main characters (title characters) are both on missions of redemption, and both film’s feature a young boy at the heart of the story. Nic Cage’s revival here on screen will most likely be forgotten and not seen by main stream audiences come Oscar season in the fall, but I sure do hope that when you read this review you seek Joe out and give it a watch. It’s worth your time and you just might leave with the sense that one of the best actor’s of the 90’s is back and hopefully here to stay.