Why haven’t you watched or why aren’t you watching Nicolas Cage in Joe? Stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie. It is playing in some theaters but available everywhere on demand. Go find it. I’ll wait.
Let’s start with a little story. Once upon a time, my wife decided to bring one of her friends over and somehow the subject of Nicolas Cage popped up—as it would/should in any self-respecting household. This was the first time I ever met this person and she mistakenly decided to share her stupid opinion that Nicolas Cage was terrible. A bad actor who mostly did bad movies, as she put it.
I instantly hated her guts. I despised her very existence. I still do.
Needless to say, this was the first and only time I ever met this person. It’s a minor miracle that I didn’t kick this person out of my house or spit in her face. Obviously, she didn’t possess a brain.
Sure, Nicolas Cage has had his troubles with the IRS and been forced to do some shitty movies. No one can defend The Wicker Man (NOT THE BEES!!!). But you’re an idiot if you don’t think the good outweighs the bad. If nothing else, Nicolas Cage is always entertaining and he makes everything memorable.
The facial expressions Nicolas Cage makes in Joe should be emblazoned in your brain forever. There’s even a scene where Nicolas Cage (the aforementioned Joe) is drunkenly explaining to Tye Sheridan (who plays Gary) how to work on his cool face—stand like you own land, make your pain face, and then smile like you’ve got a lot on your mind but you know you’re gonna get through it. It’s pure fucking gold.
Especially because the expression on Tye Sheridan’s face looks like he’s crying through constipation.
Coming off a solid performance in Mud, Tye Sheridan is making a name for himself already in his young career. These two roles and the ensuing performances are eerily reminiscent of Brad Renfroe. Hopefully his future work allows room for a little more diversity because it’s abundantly clear that Sheridan has the troubled redneck role locked down. In this movie, Tye Sheridan is exceedingly enjoyable and easy to root for as Gary Jones—who is a 15-year old wise beyond his years charged with the responsibility of caring for and protecting his mom and sister from his degenerate, abusive alcoholic father.
Whether or not you like Joe as much I do will probably hinge on your opinion of Gary’s father, Wade a.k.a G-Daawg. This role is pivotal for the movie and it’s played by Gary Poulter who was a homeless man pulled off the street and offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Director David Gordon Green deserves immense credit for having the balls to think outside the box by seeking out locals to employ. As a result of this brilliant decision, Joe exudes an overwhelming sense of realism because you feel Poulter really is this character and he might be that awful. Gary Poulter didn’t have the classic training to be an actor, but he didn’t need it for this movie. This wasn’t so much of an acting job as it was a cathartic exercise.
Wade was Gary Poulter in all his glory. For much of this movie, Wade is menacing and increasingly violent when anything gets in the way between him and the bottle. Slapping his son is commonplace and it is clear that he’s done some terrible things to both his daughter and wife. Yet there’s still a human being deep down at the core of this character. While drunk off his ass (well, he’s literally on his ass and can’t stand up), Wade is cheerful as he displays his pop ‘n lock skills. That wasn’t in the script. That was just Gary Poulter.
As a homeless man who had truly lived this life, Gary Poulter brought something to the table that no one could have hoped to recreate. It was fucking heartbreaking. I think I identified with Gary Poulter more than the average person because I’ve grown up in the nonprofit realm helping this type of person. I’ve seen people like Gary Poulter before. They’re no different than you or me. We all have our demons in some form or another. But it’s how we deal with those issues that set us apart. For some, it’s just easier to drink away the pain or shoot junk into your veins. The bottle was the drug of choice for Gary and Wade.
With one look, you could tell that Gary Poulter had been chewed up and spit out by the machine of life.
But somehow, he managed to pull it together for the duration of filming. By all accounts, he was a delightful presence and always professional when on set. I couldn’t have been more impressed by Poulter’s performance. Unfortunately, I knew how his story ended before I saw the movie. I’ve been anticipating the release of Joe for a while now after the success of Mud, which touches on some similar themes.
Only two months after the completion of filming and the start of new possibilities, Gary Poulter was found dead in Austin, Texas, after apparently drowning in just three feet of water. He was drunk and homeless again. Maybe he had another alcohol-induced seizure or perhaps he passed out in a drunken stupor. It’s a sad end to a sad life. But this ending is not unique to Poulter. Some who are homeless choose to keep that lifestyle because it’s what is familar. It’s easier to survive on your own than listen to or deal with other people. I encourage everyone to read Gary Poulter’s life story laid out in The Austin Chronicle. Despite any bad things he did, he deserves for you to know his name. Let Joe serve as an ode to Gary Poulter.
The dynamic established by this movie is one of a kind. The rise and fall of Gary Poulter shows why it’s so risky to cast a homeless man in a significant role, but it also shows how successful it can be when everything breaks right. Joe benefits from a rare restrained performance from Nicolas Cage, which allows both Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter to shine in their respective roles before the fireworks begin.
For most of this movie, you are waiting for Joe to explode in all of his Cagey exuberance. As an ex-con who spent more than a year in the penitentiary, Joe is desperately attempting to keep is anger at bay while his rage continues to boil under the surface. He damn sure doesn’t take any shit from the local police. Joe probably won’t be the most memorable role of Cage’s career, but it shows that a great actor has still been struggling to stay alive despite movies like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years. Even if this type of Cage movie only comes around every five years, it’s worth the wait in my opinion. Joe is a great movie with some fine Cagey moments that everyone should enjoy.
If you don’t like Joe, go fuck yourself.