Arguably the most impressive proof of a director’s versatility at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Joe is the latest offering from David Gordon Green. It’s a striking kind of American film, miles away from the dark Gothic Americana of Jim Mickle’s Cold in July but still very much a Deep South film of dusk and misery, redemption and family, desperation and control. The cyclical nature of violence is only too well understood by Joe, an ex-con struggling with his own demons when he meets Gary, a young boy living in poverty with his abusive alcoholic father.
Cage gives a heart-felt and powerful performance in a role apparently made for him, balancing the raw and somewhat barmy nature of Joe’s pain with a truly tender understanding of genuine charity. The Cage-isms are here, but directed in such a potent way they lend gravitas to a character we come to genuinely know, love, and fear.
The film feels very much like Cage’s performance: brief flurries of madness, violence, and utter anguish keep the film on edge, but the rest of the film is in no way filler. Here lies a simple melodrama of complex characters expertly put together. Green speaks loud and clear in a voice so consistently brutal and beautiful the film can be nothing less than involving. At any moment the already morbid tone of the feature could nose dive thanks to any one of its foul characters, or soar with Gary and Joe’s unabashed content with simply being. Special mention goes to the late Garty Poulter who champions his scenes, giving a truly disgusting yet hurt performance as Gary’s father, a man slave to his own disgraceful behaviour.
In the end this is an optimistic, touching, yet entrancingly dark drama riveted into place by Green’s eye for detail, Cage’s performance, and Tim Orr’s laconic cinematography. A pleasure to behold.