Joe barely got a release. It was in New York for about 4 days, and I missed it. The fact that Joe, a great American film, in my opinion, couldn’t even get distribution is evidence of the dire-ness of the situation for these mid-level mid-range films. These mid-level films, not a huge budget, only one star, a regional cast, used to be the bread-and-butter of the industry. No more. But Joe should be seen.
As I was watching, with a dawning sense of how good it was, I was trying to codify what I was seeing, I was trying to analyze it, and classify it. But I couldn’t. There are precedents. But the precedents fall apart at a certain point. Joe is its own thing.
I had read the reviews about Nicolas Cage’s truly magnificent performance. I’ve always been a fan, even of his more blockbuster-y stuff, so I was not surprised. But I still was not prepared for what he did with this role, for who he became. It’s a superbly written role, first of all, a brilliant and unique conception. There are huge gaps in what we know. That’s as it should be. It’s the kind of character you will want to talk about after you see the film. It’s the kind of character that just gets larger and larger in your mind the farther away you get from the movie. Who is he? What motivates him? Again, I was trying to “place” him, which is also just evidence of how cliched most films are, how cliched most writing is. People are button-holed into “types.” It happens. Joe is not a type. He’s a real guy. There’s a little bit of Travis Bickle in him, but that analogy falls apart. There’s a little bit of Nick Nolte in Affliction in him, but that falls apart too. Eventually you have to just stop trying to classify the guy, and deal with what you are seeing onscreen. Nicolas Cage has brought someone real, and living, and complex, and mysterious, to the screen, and he is not what you expect. The power of the performance comes, often, from how he listens. Listening is the most important thing an actor can do. I wrote about his power of listening in my review of The Frozen Ground, another movie that kind of came and went, but features an amazing and subtle performance from Cage that rests entirely on how he listens. He’s so good at it. In Joe, the character itself is so odd and so interesting that I could barely process it as it was happening, and some of those moments, his listening moments, the moments when he takes in new information, are so startling that you almost want to hide your eyes.
It’s a character hard to like, but a character you cannot help but love. I can’t stop thinking about him.
There is more to be said about the film, but my initial response to it has to do with Nicolas Cage’s acting, and so that is what I share here. It is a great great performance. One that should be studied by actors, one that should be celebrated.