JOE (2014, David Gordon Green)
After the dreck that was YOUR HIGHNESS and THE SITTER, I thought I’d be delighted to have DGG back in the realm of UNDERTOW-esque drama. But PRINCE AVALANCHE was a too-minor exercise in Texas twee, and now JOE is a well-acted but predictable and hackneyed bit of dark, violent character study. The redemptive tale of a humble Southerner coming to the defense of a young boy abused by his drunk father is a storyline that was starting to become stale around the time of SLING BLADE (which handled it way better), but now it’s totally fossilized. Every beat is preordained, and while DGG’s sense of tragedy sort of requires this kind of inevitability, it sure makes for turgid drama.
Cage is quite good as the title character, as is Tye Sheridan as his protege (though Sheridan did much better work last year in MUD), but it’s in the service of a pointless look at misery among blue collar hicks. What are we to learn here — that child abuse is bad? That violence sucks? That some people can find redemption and children are our future? Gary Hawkins’s script (based on Larry Brown’s novel) provides few insightful lines and even fewer revelations in storytelling. DGG always manages to find some humor and realism in offbeat sequences (and the first half of the film has a few terrific ones), but it’s unclear why he felt this was a narrative that needed to be told yet again, with the same obvious beats. Looks like now I have to root for PINEAPPLE EXPRESS 2 to come as soon as possible.