The Ron’s review published on Letterboxd:
David Gordon Green's Joe is a film that without a doubt proves Nicolas Cage still has it as an actor. I've long been of the opinion that Cage hasn't become a shitty actor he just takes shit roles because he obviously doesn't give a fuck. Every once in awhile though he takes a role like this, and shows he is and always has been one hell of an actor. His performance in this dark gritty role is his best in sometime and one of the best of his career. Teaming with director David Gordon Green, who is very hit or miss himself turned out to be a wise decision and a return to form for both men.
Nicolas Cage plays Joe, an ex-com who becomes the unlikeliest of role models for Gary (Tye Sheridan). A 15 year old boy trying to earn money for his dirt poor family. Something his alcoholic and abusive father Wade a.k.a. G-Daawg refuses to do. Joe struggles to suppress his past ways while doing his best to help the boy and his situation.
The best part about Joe is the central performances by Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan who made a name for himself in the indie hit Mud alongside Matthew McConaughey. I saw this as a similar type role for Sheridan and he once again is fantastic. The young man has some serious acting chops, and the onscreen chemistry between him and Cage is excellent. Cage's role as unlikely mentor to a boy who desperately needs it is what makes the film.
While I loved the acting I had some issues with the story. It's a kind of dark coming of age story and one I enjoyed but I felt David Gordon Green was a little sloppy in the way he presented it onscreen. I haven't read Larry Brown's novel so I'm not sure how things play out in the book, but onscreen it just felt a little disjointed at times. Like maybe it could have been edited better. Gary's father played by Gary Poulter was good as the asshole father, but I kept thinking he looked a little too old for the role and to be doing some of the things he does. It just threw me off a little bit. Then there's Joe's nemesis Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). His entire existence in the film felt contrived. He's really just an generic asshole in a bar character who's only purpose was to connect Joe with Gary's father. The problem with that is they're already connected by Gary making Willie-Russell an unnecessary plot device. I'd rather have seen that time devoted to the characters that meant something, like Gary's family or Joe's girlfriend who pops in and out of the film before we know anything about her.
The flaws may sound minor but, they're enough to keep the film from realizing it's full potential. Joe ultimately falls into that category of very good films that could have been great. I really liked it especially Cage and Sheridan's performances, but I couldn't help but think with a few tweaks it could have been so much better!