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People tend to underestimate Nicolas Cage. And given his filmography in recent years, that’s understandable. The actor has consistently been working, but mostly in schlocky movies that are not worthy of his talent. Even his admirable qualities—his willingness to take risks and his total commitment to his characters—have worked against him in recent years, and his passionate performances in forgettable films are often deemed campy overacting. Cage has been an actor in desperate need of role that he can simply disappear into, leaving his baggage behind, and it finally came along. In addition to being one of the most prominent indie filmmakers of the aughts, David Gordon Green is a die-hard cinephile. Familiar with Cage’s immeasurable skills, the filmmaker tapped him as the lead in his latest film, Joe. Based on a novel by Larry Brown, this slow-burning southern drama follows the unlikely friendship between Joe, an ex-con/alcoholic turned lumberman, and Gary (played by Mud’s Tye Sheridan), a derelict teen who strives to better himself despite the mistreatment he receives from his inebriated parents.
While Cage is clearly comfortable in lightweight big budget Blockbusters, he is in actuality far better suited to indie projects that do not allow him to rely on his emotive bag of tricks, so to speak. With Joe, Cage can be understated and can immerse himself in a complex character who is not a cardboard figure. Like Cage (having just turned 50 this year), Joe is at the mid-point in his life. Despondent and full of repressed rage, Joe is a damaged but honest man trying to look to the future instead of the past. His eyes are wide open as far as the crumbling world around him goes, but he has accepted his fate and is satisfied to spend the remainder of his days doing hard labor (presumably as penance for past sins).
Cage has the uncanny ability to play a wise, world-weary man, so the role of Joe is no stretch for him. It’s obvious from the trailer that Cage has put on some weight for the film and that he utilizes that bulkiness in his portrayal of the character. Cage always brings an interesting psychically to his roles, and the audience can see the full burden of Joe’s past life in Cage’s gait alone. Always an incredible on-screen presence, Cage is totally believable as a damaged and desperate soul who is invested in saving Gary from making the same mistakes he did as a youth.
Joe will be released on April 11 and, for us, that can’t come quickly enough. Though we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, this is the kind of role that the Academy recognizes come Oscar time. Long overdue for proper critical and industry attention, Joe could be a turning point in Cage’s advancing career. We hope that more filmmakers will want to tap Cage’s depth and maturity and that interesting roles will continue to come to actor’s way.