With "Joe," a small movie with big emotions, Nicolas Cage may find that what’s good for Matthew McConaughey is also good for him.
Director-writer David Gordon Green’s quietly intense character study — adapted from a Larry Brown novel — is a movie that reminds us that Cage, who won an Oscar for "Leaving Las Vegas" back in 1995, can still be a great actor when he wants to be.
Nicolas Cage shines as an ex-con who becomes an unlikely role model for a battered teen in this well-observed drama.
Where » Tower Theatre.
When » Opens Friday, April 25.
Rating » R for violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content.
Running time » 118 minutes.
Cage plays Joe, an ex-convict who works his days running a tree-clearing crew in rural Texas. He spends his nights either visiting the local brothel or keeping to himself, with his trusty bulldog. He aims to stay out of trouble, because he knows his temper, if riled, could land him back in prison.
One day, a 15-year-old kid named Gary (Tye Sheridan) comes looking for a job on Joe’s crew. Gary’s a hard worker, and Joe sees in him a little of himself at that age.
In that way, Gary is similar to the role Sheridan played in Jeff Nichols’ drama "Mud," in which he was a wide-eyed protégé to a low-key fugitive played by McConaughey. If any actor in need of a career boost needs a talented young actor as a good-luck charm, Sheridan is a fine one.
Joe also encounters Gary’s father, Wade (Gary Poulter), a scraggly drunk who doesn’t work his fair share — and, at home, beats Gary as well as Gary’s mom (Brenda Isaacs Booth) and his mentally impaired sister (Anna Niemtschk).
(Green, who likes to put nonactors in his movies, found Poulter homeless on the streets of Austin, Texas, and cast him as Wade. It’s a chilling-to-the-bone performance, which makes it all the sadder to learn that Poulter died, on the street, two months after filming.)
Joe is faced with a dilemma. Does he mind his own business and stay calm to avoid stirring up his old anger? Or does he get involved and help this boy before it’s too late?
Green gives Cage a role that’s meaty and authentic, and the actor runs with it. He encapsulates Joe’s mix of quiet authority and pent-up rage, capturing a life of regrets in simple gestures and sometimes just a look.
And while Green is reinvigorating Cage’s career, he’s also resuscitating his own. Green first emerged as a soulful indie director with carefully observant films like "George Washington," "All the Real Girls" and "Snow Angels." Recently, he’s been sidetracked with stoner comedies, like "Pineapple Express" and the atrocious "Your Highness." "Joe," with its precision in detail of its characters and their hardscrabble setting, is a powerful return to form.
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