“Joe” is one of Netflix’s latest editions to its library. The film originally premiered in August of 2013 and is based on the novel of the same name by Larry Brown.
“Joe” centers around ex-convict Joe Ransom (Nicholas Cage) and his efforts to help a young man named Gary (Tye Sheridan). In the film, Gary has been abused by his father Wade (Gary Poulter) his whole life, but he cares too much about the rest of his family to run away. He goes searching for work in a new town and comes across Ransom and his tree removal crew. Ransom may seem an unlikely father-figure, but he and Gary quickly form a close bond and Ransom promises to protect Gary from his father.
In “Joe,” Cage reminds us how he became a leading man in the first place. His typical goofy action-hero persona is nowhere to be found. Ransom is kind, violent, sympathetic, dangerous and heroic all at once. As spectacular as Cage’s performance is, the most impressive performance in the film comes from Poulter. Poulter, a former marine with a bipolar disorder who had been homeless, was cast to bring authenticity to the film. His performance as Wade is both monstrous and pathetic, making the character shine. Poulter himself died from alcohol poisoning in 2013 and never got to see “Joe” completed. The movie stands as a remarkable memorial to Poulter and to anyone who has ever suffered from severe mental illness or alcoholism.
Viewers gave “Joe” an average of three stars on Netflix, but the film is significantly better than that. I admit that the film is hard to watch; the film’s depiction of child abuse and violence in general is going to be too much for some people.
“Joe” isn’t just about portraying the worst aspects of human nature, however. The darkness that permeates the film serves as a contrast to the film’s powerful ending; it wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without the realistic pain the characters experience. Gary represents the last drop of innocence in director Gordon Green’s world. The heart of this movie is Joe’s willingness to sacrifice for no other reason than to protect that innocence.