Joe is not the first book by the late, great Mississippi writer Larry Brown to be adapted for a film — that distinction goes to Arliss Howard’s 2001 Big Bad Love. But Joe may be the film that Brown’s devoted fans have been waiting for. The film comes by its Southern Gothic bona fides honestly: Director (and Southerner) David Gordon Green cut his teeth working on a documentary directed by his mentor Gary Hawkins called The Rough South of Larry Brown. (Jeff Nichols, who directed last year’s Mud, also worked on the documentary). And Hawkins wrote the adapted screenplay Green used to make Joe. The result is a film that’s faithful to the gritty, dark and violent world of Brown’s novel and benefits from what can only be seen as a major comeback performance by Nicholas Cage in the title role.
Joe gets darker — both literally and figuratively — as it moves along. It’s the kind of film where blows and bullets arrive unexpectedly, and danger always hangs in the air. Joe runs a crew that poisons trees for a lumber company and struggles to make sense of the chaos and squalor in his small Southern town. His life changes when 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan, who also starred in Mud) and his abusive alcoholic father Wade (Gary Poulter) join his crew, and Joe finds his purpose in helping the teenager survive his surroundings. Sheridan keeps up admirably with Cage, but it’s the scene-stealing performance by Poulter — a real-life homeless man found on the streets of Austin, Texas who died shortly after filming Joe — that may help render the film a true cult classic. Poulter’s monstrous Wade is not easy to take. But the character shows that in Larry Brown’s world as in life, redemption is not always possible. — KEN KORMAN
Joe starts today, Friday, May 16, exclusively at Chalmette Movies.