Edinburgh film festival review: Joe

ONE of the most remarkable things about Nicolas Cage’s performance in Joe, which receives its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival tonight.

Nicolas Cage, right, in Joe. Picture: Contributed


Directed by: David Gordon Green

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Star rating: * * * *

is the way he responds to the chaos with which director David Gordon Green surrounds him. More frequently called upon to be the live-wire element in movies both mainstream and arthouse, his simmering turn here as the eponymous ex-con trying to keep a lid on his violent impulses through a combination of hard work and hard liquor is enlivened by his interactions with the raw, untrained members of the public Green casts in the movie. With a tendency to speak in semi-coherent mumbles that you sometimes have to strain to make out, they give the film an off-kilter energy and Cage responds in kind: always in the moment, always aware, always ready to respond to an aside here, an insult there, or a request to carve up some roadkill while some chickens run around in the foreground. That he’s often the calm centre of a scene also adds to the film’s tension, allowing Green to both play with and subvert Cage’s predictable unpredictability so that it feels fresh once more.

The same might be said for Green’s work too. Having long since transcended his infatuation with Terrence Malick, his own influence can now be seen across a new generation of filmmakers churning out lyrical indie films about marginalized people just scraping by. But where other movies can sometimes feel a little try-hard, Green has a more innate understanding now of how to make his films pulsate with the sometimes funny, sometimes harsh, sometimes plain weird rhythms of real life. Thus as Joe takes an abused kid called Gary (Mud’s Tye Sheridan) under his wing – giving him work on his crew poisoning trees destined for clearing; schooling him in the ways of the world that Gary’s own father (Gary Poulter) is too drunk to tell him about – Cage not only manages to embody the kind of lone wolf protagonist found in samurai movies and Westerns, he makes that archetype seem believably human. That also helps ground the pulpy melodrama of the plot without denying us the pleasures those kinds of stories – with their Old Testament sense of justice and propriety – have to offer. As Joe’s past catches up with him, Cage gives us a complex portrait of a formerly bad man trying to do the right thing in all his imperfect and messy glory.

• Joe screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival today and on 28 June. For times and tickets see: edfilmfest.org.uk