Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 in Shit: Joe

I saw Joe in spite of the fact that it was made by the dude who directed Pineapple Express. I say this not because I have seen that movie, but because I didn't know anything else about David Gordon Green prior to the film. And because what convinced me to see it -- the film's synopsis reads like a fanfiction premise for the unique place in the culture Nic Cage has come to inhabit, and of which I am very appreciative, that somehow actually managed to get made with Nic Cage attached -- seems, in retrospect, like something I would now instinctively avoid. Wacky explosive Nic Cage is great, particularly in Wild at Heart, but nothing is ever going to touch Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Nothing.

That said, Joe turned out to be a pretty fucking good movie, and one I would recommend. It avoids an enormous amount of pitfalls that it sets for itself; it is, for lack of a better word, a neorealist film. Aside from Cage (and the kid, Tye Sheridan, whose work I am not familiar with), all of the actors (I think?) were non-professionals. And it is very much a movie about working class lives and misery. Cage plays an alcoholic struggling with anger issues who becomes a sort of surrogate dad for Sheridan, whose real father, played (often incredibly) by Gary Poulter, is a drifter and a drunk. There's a scene where Poulter murders another homeless man for a bottle of liquor, but that's one of the only moments where Joe becomes the sort of movie that you might expect it would be.

The rest of the time, Cage is playing up his internal tension in a way that is perfectly Cagey but never gives in to the spectacle of his casting. Maybe that part where he shoots a dog? But even bits like that, or when he punches out a rookie cop (holy shit that bit is so good) aren't a "not the bees" moment. I dunno, really, but it's all great. Nic Cage is great.

Joe's a weird movie to talk about, and not only because I saw it almost a full year ago at this point. It's quiet and respectful in ways that a synopsis or review (by me) can't really get at. It's the sort of movie that is as interested in its landscapes as it is what drives it. There's a lot of dirt and mud in the movie, and it's shot as respectfully as any moment of Cage burning up inside or Poulter unexpectedly popping and locking is. The premise, as a sort of independent film, is so in line with so much American Literature that even though I don't know that I've seen many movies like it (or even that much fiction like it, really) but it still feels kind of unimaginative. Working dads with nothing but drink and a potential for violence left after decades of labor. Rural America where industry is both unavailable and ever encroaching.

Cage employs a group of folks, including eventually Sheridan and occasionally Poulter, at spraying trees with poison that will slowly kill them. There's no direct utility to his work, and it is probably actually illegal, but he is laying the groundwork for some timber company to be allowed to get in on the ground once the devastation is done. There aren't really moral dilemmas here; it is a place of poverty and disillusion. Yeah. I swear it's good though.

I remember standing outside the theater talking about the movie after it was over. I'm sure I said some things about the small moments that carried through, changing ever so slightly the tone of later bits. About standout moments that hit hard and had depth. There was a scene that was an argument between Poulter and (I believe?) a senior worker, the kind of thing that you really could believe was a take that spiralled out of control so perfectly as to be left in. Those kind of things. Cage punching out a cop. But I really don't remember much. Maybe we'll watch it together some day. I think that'd be cool.

Blog Archive