Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Can Cage come back?

Published Thursday, 31 July 2014
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Any new movie starring Nicolas Cage usually fills me with total dread. No actor has annoyed me more in the last twenty years with his ridiculous ranting and raving in a series of very silly films (see remake of The Wicker Man).

However, he has recently received critical acclaim for a surprisingly understated performance in indie drama JOE. So can Cage turn over a new page?

Adapted from a 1991 novel by author Larry Brown, JOE tells the tale of an ex-con in the Deep South struggling to stay on the straight side of the law. Cage plays Joe Ransom, a hard-drinking lumberjack with a heart of gold, who leads a crew of tree-killing manual labourers. They clear unwanted and worthless woods with juice hatchets, slicing and squirting poisons into the bark, making way for lucrative pine trees.

Then one day in the forest, Joe meets Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old drifter who has wandered into the local town with his poverty-stricken family. The enterprising boy just wants a job and a better life away from his drunken abusive father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Joe takes the likeable lad under his wing, almost becoming a 'real' dad, and together they navigate a difficult world in search of redemption.

Director David Gordon Green, best known for his recent stoner comedies Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter has created a compelling modern horror film. A disturbing slice of Southern gothic where violent drunken men and snarling dogs terrorise women and children. Joe is the best of a bad bunch but even he is hardly 'man of the year'.

Green casts non-actors in many of the supporting roles which brings a real edge to the drama. I don't think I have ever seen a more disturbing performance than Gary Poulter as Wade. He's a terrifying monster, who will beg, beat and murder for a sip of booze. Poulter was a real homeless man, who sadly died a few months after filming finished.

Nicolas Cage has had more bad hair days than I've had hot dinners, but thankfully, all is well here. No balding mullet alert required. Instead a bushy beard helps soften his lengthy features. Cage's best screen performance was his Oscar winning alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas. Joe is similarly lubricated with the added affliction of chain-smoking. Maybe this is why Cage is so good? Or maybe it's because he has just eliminated all the annoying over-the-top antics?

Whatever the reason, it works and let's hope it continues. Matthew McConaughey has showed the way back for all those actors lost in a never ending spiral of hopeless movies. Cage's JOE does share a great deal of similarities with McConaughey's marvellous 2011 film, MUD, including young terrific actor Tye Sheridan. However, let's not hail another 'McConaissance' just yet, but JOE is one Nicolas Cage film that does glow.

Joe (Cert 15) is screening at the QFT from Friday 1 August.

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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