“You look at me like I can make a move. What are you thinking when you look at me like that? Don’t you care? I don’t know who I am, but I know what keeps me alive is restraint. Keeps me out of jail. Keeps me from hurting people. A mark of some fucked-up faith that there’s a reason. A reason for all of this. A reason in most moments I shouldn’t do what I wanna do. I do as I’m told.”
Nicolas Cage as won an Oscar and spent the 80s and a fare whack of the 90s as a sort after, respected, A-list actor. Then, in the 90s and at the turn of the millennium, Cage had a few action movie hits and he was a blockbuster star as well as a great actor. But that didn’t last long. His inability to tell the difference between self-aware action camp like Face/Off, and out and out shit bombs like The Wicker Man lead to one of the most notorious falls from Hollywood grace of the last few decades.
In a much shorter time frame and much smaller filmography, director David Gordon Green managed to shit the bed in a pretty similar way. From critically acclaimed indie favourite, to the hack who brought us such movies as Your Highness and The Sitter, the only thing more efficient than how he built his cinematic goodwill was how fast he pissed it away. Then he made Prince Avalanche and seemed to have rediscovered his personal, indie story telling roots. That same year, he also discovered how awesome Nicolas Cage can still be, with Joe.
A drifter father (Gary Poulter as Wade, AKA G-Daawg) sits on railway track while his son (Ty Sheridan as Gary) berates him for the terrible life he has provided for his family. Looking for work, Gary comes across a crew of men poisoning trees. A crew of men lead by Joe (Cage). Joe’s a hard workin’, hard drinkin’, hard whorin’ ass kicker who takes no shit form anyone, but gives respect when it is earned.
A bond quickly forms between the father-figure-starved Gary and Joe, and Gary’s actual father is just as quick to resent it. But this story is bigger than Joe and Gary. Joe’s past indiscretions, and the threat of how they could come back to haunt him, fill every square inch of the frame of this movie.
The world of Joe is ugly and ruthless and soaked in cheap booze. It’s not the kind of world you would ever what to experience firsthand. And despite his surroundings and the terrible things he does, or seemingly has done in his past, Cage still makes the character of Joe impressive and in some ways, admirable.
Gordon Green seems to back on the right path, making small, interesting movies, instead of the shitty stoner comedies of his wilderness years. He’s at the stage now where I’m interested to see anything new he puts out. Cage on the other hand still has a ratio with a few too many misses for every hit for me to give his present day career the benefit of the doubt. But Joe is a great reminder that Nicolas Cage still has an amazing performance in him when he’s in the right movie.