Harry Ridgway’s review published on Letterboxd:
Joe delves deep into the membrane of a town enveloped with gloom. Its populace and locality are stuck in time and to us spectators, this rural settlement is transposable with a hell all inhabitants have been damned to. David Gordon Green's return to dejection is one of pure excellence and what he snares from his actors is beyond extraordinary. Joe is difficult to remain transfixed upon, but once the credits hit, the rewards are profuse.
Exceedingly dark and unrelenting, Gordon Green's vision infuses a juxtaposition of themes into the film. It's incredibly fascinating, but incredibly deplorable. A touching friendship mixed with scenes of domestic sadism that are the epitome of direness. The film always shifts, in mood or character integrity, and either sheds light or darkness upon them. Joe is the main subject of these alterations who spans from the despicable to the heroic and anywhere in the middle - always questioning our partiality for him. But contrary to the expected, this immobility thrives in the film and keeps our interest piqued and our expectations indistinct.
Our main man, the incongruous Joe, exudes confliction with every motion - it has contaminated his very core. A hunger for violence but the aspiration for self-cultivation is expressed with such clarity through the facial expressions of Nicolas Cage, who has blissfully busted his streak of pedestrian films to once again display his unrivalled brilliance.
Gordon Green puts firm emphasis on just how mislaid this town is. It's spoiled in every direction and the swirling of rubbish in the wind, circulating the borough, is just another aspect that emanates foulness. Gary, who has spent his whole existence confined, tormented, unaided and underprivileged, is a character who we instantly have sympathy for. Tye Sheridan once again stupefies in a role much darker than anything he's attempted before - his ability to convey all sentiments without a word is such a rare trait in a young actor, and he's got to be one of the best there's been.
An acting goldmine, Joe bequeaths the opportunity for resurgence upon two very special actors. The first of course being Cage, whose subtle portrayal and entrancing charisma help this become one of his most bona fide performances. The other is Gary Poulter, a homeless man who's never acted before this film. To describe his performance as mind-blowing isn't enough - his portrayal of Gary's abusive father is concurrently mesmerizing and awfully disturbing. It's shocking, genuine and award worthy -- such a shame he passed before he could witness the universal acclaim he has received.
Joe erratically becomes snagged in a cliché or two, but overall the film is a haunting and innovative portrait of polluted life and one man's struggle with the choice of redemption or destruction. Its atmosphere may be its most resonant aspect, seeping into your mind throughout the movie; the feelings of darkness encase the viewer which is only relieved by the conclusion - one of pure intensity. Joe has been a vessel for the rebirth of many people, and an opportunity to display a posthumous starmaking turn from Gary Poulter. It's a tale of repression that depicts the collective yearning for liberation with a monumental quantity of poignancy propelling it forward.
"Are you my friend?"