In the midst of turning out low-level shlock like Bangkok Dangerous, Stolen, and Pay the Ghost (among many others), Nicolas Cage took a break from his transformation into Bruce Willis to star in this low budget drama about a teenager from a broken family connecting with an ex-con who thought he had nothing left to live for. And in this film, we catch a glimpse of the Cage that won an Oscar back in 1995. The Cage we deserve to see again, and just may thanks to the critical acclaim of films like Mandy and Pig. Joe also showcases the talent of future Halloween savior David Gordon Green, who apparently really can do anything.
Joe (Cage) runs a small tree-cutting crew, lives alone, has a rocky relationship with a local girl, and is constantly harassed by the law because he's an ex-con. One day, an abused teen named Gary (Sheridan) wanders into his job site and asks for a job. Joe gives the kid a chance, and they become friends. Meanwhile, Gary's deadbeat and abusive dad (Poulter, a local non-actor who did a fantastic job and died shortly after production ended) is stealing Gary's money and threatening his sister. Also, Joe has a long-standing beef with a local asshole, who joins up with Gary's dad to solve both their problems. Along the way, Joe learns to care about someone again, and Gary accepts that he deserves happiness as much as the next person. It's a solid arc all around with a host of great performances.
Joe didn't do that hot at the box office, but it was Cage's first critically acclaimed film in some time. It showed critics and audiences everywhere that there is still a lot of gas in that tank, and he is nowhere near finished. Joe has a lot morally gray moments for its heroes and its villains, which keeps things realistic. Joe is a bit of a bastard at times, but even bastards deserve a shot at redemption.