Joe (US - BD RA)
Jonathan looks at the latest offering from director David Gordon Green...
Joe (Nicolas Cage) is a hard-living ex-con and the unlikeliest of role models. After Joe meets a troubled 15-year-old boy (Tye Sheridan) who's trying to escape a violent father, he is faced with life-changing choices that could bring redemption... or ruin. (From the Lionsgate synopsis)
When I watch Joe it is difficult not to think of Jeff Nichols's Mud from 2012. Nichols and Joe director David Gordon Green are old friends. Both tell harsh stories set in the south, and most recently both have made movies with the young actor Tye Sheridan making friends with a convict. At times Joe feels like Mud's weirder, more R-rated sibling. The pull for many will be the opportunity to see a great performance from Nicolas Cage. For David Gordon Green fans like myself, it is also a joy to see him back in his element. I would argue that Prince Avalanche was already a major return to form for the director following his stint in comedy work.
Joe isn't the most original story when you stand back and look at it. When an ex-con needs to help a young boy in a dire situation, you can probably imagine where the story will go. But what it lacks in newness it makes up for with character and nuance. There are a lot of scenes you could pick out and say they have no point, but you'd be wrong. Green allows us to spend a good deal of time with Joe and his mundane interactions with friends and coworkers. It gives you a great sense of who Joe is. It is also a delight to see Cage in a great performance where he does not need to fly off the rails. Joe has his moments of rage, but this is some of Cage's best subtle work. Tye Sheridan continues to hold his own well among veteran actors at the top of their game. His portrayal of Gary as a tough but vulnerable young man is spot on. Between this and Mud, I seriously can't wait to see what he does in the future.
Green will sometimes let the visuals and the score take precedent over the dialogue, aware that conveying mood is sometimes more important than what is being said. This is something he did more in his earlier independent films, and had me fondly recalling George Washington at times. This method can also stir up a sense of awe or absolute dread depending on the tone he wants to set. It works great and gives the movie an unusual, otherwordly feel at times. One thing that has always really impressed me is David Gordon Green's ability to get great performances out of non-actors. The key example in Joe is Gary Poulter, who plays the violent drunken father. His character feels startlingly natural and realistic compared to the way drunks are portrayed in movies, and I was not shocked to find out afterwards that he was a homeless man in Austin that Green gave the role to. I was also saddened to hear that he passed away a couple months after this gig.
This 1080p transfer from Lionsgate is near flawless. Joe was shot on the Arri Alexa digital camera system, which is slowly convincing me that leaving film behind wouldn't be the death of cinema after all. Green has always had a knack for gorgeous natural scenery and he flexes these muscles well in Joe. Apparently a lot of this was filmed around Austin, TX, where I live. I need to find out where some of these spots are. Detail is very sharp, but expectedly grows murky in the darker scenes, of which there are many. But even in stylishly lit scenes the transfer keeps its composure well (see the second screencap). Black levels feels just right and compression artefacts only ever creep up in the dark, solid colored areas of the picture from time to time with some mild banding, but you would have to be looking for it. There's little to complain about here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a mixed bag for me. In terms of audio quality it mostly sounds just fine, but during some of the heavier musical moments it almost sounded like my speakers were being maxed out, which doesn't happen with loud rumbling blockbusters. It is possibly part of the sound design but it was unpleasant to my ears either way. I'm curious to know if anyone else experiences the same thing with this disc. Aside from that I have only good things to say about this track. As I mentioned in the review, Green sometimes lets the music overtake the dialogue and this is intentional, so sometimes dialogue is difficult to make out but this is definitely by design. Surround channels are mostly used for ambient noise and to spread out the score. There is occasionally some directionality when vehicles are on moving around on screen. Gunshots are appropriately loud and jarring.
Special features start out with an Audio Commentary with Director David Gordon Green, Composer David Wingo and Actor Brian D. Mays. This is a nice little commentary with a wide range of information. Green dishes out the informative material and gives a lot of insight into the characters and how his take on the story varies from the source material. Wingo makes good discussion, and not just about the music in the film. Brian D. Mays who has never acted before this film talks about the casting process he went through and getting to work with Nicolas Cage. The three have a great comradery and there's a good mix of entertaining/informative material here.
The Making of Joe (HD, 11:15) is a quick but pretty good behind-the-scenes look with interview footage of David Gordon Green, Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage talking about the character of Joe. There is more behind the scenes in The Long Gravel Drive: The Origins of Joe (HD, 15:55). This one focuses more on the book and the subsequent adaptation that the movie is based on. There are two Deleted Scenes (HD, 2:46). The first is an odd little scene with Wade reciting some text about black widow spoilers, and the latter is a an extended scene of a conversation between Wade and Willie.
Joe doesn't offer any new twists on the ex-convict story, but the material is greatly elevated by a strong performance from Nicolas Cage and David Gordon Green's return to form. I had a difficult time not comparing it to the superior Mud, but both are excellent examples of storytelling cut from the same cloth. This Blu-ray release from Lionsgate is solid in the AV department, and the few extras include are worth a look.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th June 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, "The Making of Joe" Featurette, "The Long Gravel Drive: The Origins of Joe" Featurette, Commentary with Director David Green and Composer David Wingo and Actor Brian D. Mays
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter
Length: 117 minutes
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