Saturday, May 3, 2014

Joe (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Get ready to tighten your belts and squint your eyes. We haven't seen the last of Southern Gothic and more of those stiff legged, lumbering men who are brash and big with hearts of gold. We get it all again here (as in Mud) and in David Gordon Green's adaptation of  Larry Brown's "Joe", this makes a good and gritty holiday in a hollow once more.

We have Joe (played with some rehabilitative gusto by Nicolas Cage) an over the hill, overwrought labor foreman hired to clear huge trees with sweat and poison. Joe isn't a bad guy but he has a problem with stopping his rages. He's been in trouble with cops and he's stuck in neutral. He doesn't go out. He smokes and has a gray cough.

One day, a curious and energetic boy named Gary ( Tye Sheridan of Mud fame, somewhat predictably) comes to see Joe about a job. He reluctantly takes Gary on, sensing the kid needs a break.

During a half boring and half tense time with his alcoholic and violent father (Gary Poulter) the boy unwittingly confronts Joe's near Satanic nemesis Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins). After a very cathartic scene where Gary stands up for himself, the boy gets more and more interested in the Man Alone Joe, as well as wanting protection from his increasingly scary, albeit wizened father.

Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage have a terrific chemistry and although Sheridan plays his teen role with much of the same stock that he gave in "Mud, the harmony the two share is hard to resist.

"Joe" has wonderful touches of detail. This is an anemic Mississippi, with pale and rusty washboards for windows and doors while the dogs are even paler and blood is cheaper than food. The rooms are brown with sepia heat and the people within stumble with drugs, sleep and apathy, all equally toxic.

Nicolas Cage is nimbly authentic on his own. Filmgoers and critics alike can take heart that Cage is here in full force, playing a genuinely believable character of substance rather than an action-jittering cartoon. Let us hope than this is a renaissance for the veteran actor and not a fluke.

As good as Nicolas Cage is, he is nearly outshined by a brutally venomous and an also helplessly and creepily maudlin Gary Poulter, who is all the more frightening for his stooping physique. This is Poulter's first and last film, who sadly died from drowning after production.

Last but not least, there is the roguish and supernaturally sour Willie, the monster-man who just won't go away (played as Gothic as-all-get-out by Blevins)

Even with all the usual crepuscular critters cooking a grim roux from "Winter's Bone" and "Mud", the two main characters, Joe and Gary have plunged into a boggy morality tale full of friendship and frenzy.

"Joe" has as much heart and warmth within in it as it does some sad horror, and it will definitely curl your beard and put stubble on your chest, regardless of gender.

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