Few movies are as relentlessly grim and morbid as Joe, David Gordon Green’s latest independent side project. He showed a remarkable return to form with last year’s understated, subtly moving Prince Avalanche, yet I cannot recall the last time a film navigated a landscape as brutal and uncompromising as the one shown here. The movie focuses on Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), an alcoholic ex-con who works on killing trees in an area in the South. He stumbles upon a young boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan) who is looking for work, although he’s often followed by his deadbeat drunk of a father named Wade (Gary Poulter). Their path is one of simple survival in a world where they have to face the consequences of their actions. But my question is this: why, in a world where we can find thematically similar coming-of-age stories, must we as an audience be subjected to such brutal depictions of humanity? Do we need to see a drunk beat a man’s head in after already being shown that this man is, indeed, a relentless drunk? Or to see the aftermath of a dog tearing apart another dog? Or to see a father beat his son multiple times because of his ambition? Tye Sheridan was terrific in last year’s Mud, a far better film at dissecting the nuances of growing up, and he’s fine enough here when the role works. As is Nicolas Cage, who shows a return to genuinely serious acting. But the film is one of the more gruesome depictions of humanity I’ve ever seen, and it’s rarely relatable.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)