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Arts and Entertainment

Nicolas Cage Skins A Deer, Is Awesome In The Southern Gothic Melodrama 'Joe'

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Nicolas Cage is not a man of subtlety, so having him cast as man simply named 'Joe' in the latest David Gordon Green film of the same name would seem incongruous. An actor who has dubbed his own style as 'Nouveau Shamanic' is far too large for life to be confined by a name as generic as "Joe." But in Green's film (the second in his supposed 'comeback' after last year's Prince Avalanche) a darker current runs underneath the rural Texas landscape that Joe and Joe inhabit. It turns out Nic Cage is the perfect man for the role.

Based on the Larry Brown novel of the same name, Joe is a modern day Southern gothic melodrama that revolves around Joe and Gary (Tye Sheridan, who had a breakthrough performance in last year's Mud). Joe is a hardscrabble ex-convict who tries to live his life straight, and he is seen in the film making a living poisoning old and useless trees as a service. He drinks from a flask when driving and can be prone to violent outbursts (as any Nicolas Cage character is wont to do), but his heart is in the right place. Gary is a teenager from a family whose patriarch's alcoholism has put them down on their luck, though Gary does have a good head on his shoulders. Their lives intersect when Joe hires Gary to aid in his arboricide service. The film goes down a path where petty squabbles, familial drama and criminal pasts all converge in a climactic confrontation as lurid as anything Harry Crews ever conjured.

The plot twists and turns with the predictability of a wild Texas creek and is inflected with David Gordon Green's trademark depiction of rural beauty (shot by longtime collaborator Tim Orr), though the real attraction of Joe is yet another great performance from Nicolas Cage, this time playing a real human being with depth instead of another cartoon character for the Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit YouTube montage. Joe becomes a surrogate father for Gary, but knows that he's only the better alternative by default. Cage works well with the sufficient material of the script by Gary Hawkins, but it's in the loose, improvisatory asides where Cage is his most entertaining and also his most revealing. Whether he's demonstrating to friends how to properly skin a deer (complete with butterflying venison steaks) or teaching Gary that the audible clink of a Zippo lighter turns women on to the wealth of a man, they are more revealing of the experience and years of a man than any expository dialogue could ever explain.

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Joe opens in theaters Friday.

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