I can see the headlines now, 'Nicolas Cage in good film shocker!' It's about time too. Knowing, Season of the Witch, Bangkok Dangerous - the taxman sure has a lot to answer for. I haven't enjoyed a Nicolas Cage movie this much since 2005's Lord of War, though parts of me still have a thing for Drive Angry. That might have more to do with Amber Heard than anything else, mind.
A gripping blend of friendship, violence and redemption erupts in the backwoods of the South. Welcome to Joe, a gritty adaptation of Larry Brown's celebrated novel. Directed by David Gordon Green, who is now forgiven for inflicting Your Highness and The Sitter on the world, Joe marks a welcome return to Indie roots for both director and lead actor, a film that finally gives Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage something to sink his teeth into.
Nick stars as hard-living, hot-tempered ex-con, Joe Ransom, who is trying to dodge his instincts for trouble. Until he meets young tearaway, Gary (Tye Sheridan - Mud), a boy who awakens in him a fierce and tender-hearted protector. They come up against a lot of damaged individuals on their travels, not least Gary's envious father, who threatens their friendship at every turn.
Gary Poulter brings Wade to life, a troubled man whose real life journey was just as tragic as the character he plays on film. He is phenomenal though, certainly no less compelling than Cage and Sheridan, who each bring their A game to the table. Nic keeps it low-key and as such, this is his most understated performance in years. Poulter is terrifying throughout, a ticking time-bomb of a man whose body-socking skills easily outweigh his body-popping ones.
The first act takes its time to get going but the second half of the film reels you in with violent outbursts, mesmerising performances and hard-hitting realism. Joe doesn't paint a pretty picture at all, but it does strike a chord throughout, sucker-punching the audience with heartfelt emotion and grim reality. The storyline doesn't amount to much but the three leads do, and the supporting characters that come and go (many of which, like Poulter, are untrained actors) bring authenticity to the piece.
Difficult to watch but even harder to take your eyes off, Joe is a brutally compelling drama that demands your full attention. 'Date Night' movie applicants need not apply.