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Post Info TOPIC: "Joe" Review


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Date: 1:22 AM, 03/23/14
"Joe" Review

Great review of the movie here, makes me want to see it badly.

On stage at Austin’s Paramount Theatre, after the South by Southwest screening of Joe, actor Nicolas Cage demonstrated how to make a “cool face.” The lanky actor with the long sideburns, red-leather jacket and faded jeans said, “First you make a painful face,” and he winced as if he were trying to lift a hod of bricks. “Then you put a smile on top of that,” and he did just that. Sure enough, it was the face of someone who’s seen it all and still knows how to grin about it.


In the new film directed by David Gordon Green, Cage’s character Joe has seen a lot—29 months in the state pen, gunshot wounds, hard tree-farm work—but he can still smile sometimes. But those smiles are getting harder to summon between gulps of whiskey and chain-smoked cigarettes as he edges towards 50.


The smiles are reignited when the 15-year-old Gary comes looking for work at the tree farm. The son of an abusive, alcoholic daddy, Gary is looking for an alternate father figure, and Joe is looking for a vicarious do-over on his life in the form of a teenager who might make different decisions than he did. The man teaches the boy many things, including how to make a “cool face.”


This set-up has been used in countless films, often to sentimental effect, but Joe is different because the cost of Joe’s experience and the dangers of Gary’s inexperience are made alarmingly clear. The unflinching scenes of Joe digging a bullet out of his own shoulder, of Gary getting beaten up and robbed by his own father and of Joe paying for a quickie blow job are enough to scour any hint of cuteness from the footage.


It was also enough to counteract the romanticizing of the South that often creeps into such movies. These Southerners aren’t folksy archetypes but rather complicated people capable of unpredictable viciousness—but also of unexpected generosity. All that whiskey they’re drinking doesn’t only make them more likely to tell a spellbinding story but also more likely to pull out a knife or a gun. Feelings may be closer to the surface down there, but they aren’t always nice feelings.


In introducing the picture at the Paramount Theatre, director Green explained that as a student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he had worked as a production assistant on his professor Gary Hawkins’ documentary, The Rough Side of Larry Brown, about the Mississippi novelist. Green read most of Brown’s books during that project and fell in love with the vitality and reality of the South they depicted. Years later Hawkins sent Green a screenplay adaptation of Brown’s novel Joe, and the former student landed Cage as the lead and secured the financing.


Like James Gandolfini in The Sopranos, Cage can be very charming, but whenever we become too enamored, he does something stupid or ugly to remind us just who he is. Cage does wonderful work with the gifted Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life, Mud) as Gary. The supporting cast of pros and amateurs (the counter man of Austin’s Sam’s Barbecue plays the tree farm foreman; a drifter from an Austin bus stop plays Gary’s dad; Green’s next-door neighbor plays the forgiving sheriff) are terrific too.


But the film’s third major character is the East Texas landscape. Filmed in Austin and nearby Bastrop and Taylor, the bayous, pine woods, hunting dogs, hobo camps, deer and rickety porches give the sense of a no man’s land between civilization and nature. It’s a landscape that I had driven through two days earlier, and to see it populated with such powerful characters and story proved the best treat any traveler could find.



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