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Venice 2013: Joe and Night Moves

Posted on Saturday August 31, 2013, 17:14 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Joe and Night Moves

American cinema is usually well represented at Venice, but the pickings have been a little more backwoods than Hollywood this year, two very good examples being David Gordon Green’s Joe and Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (pictured). Both are representative of each director’s style and each suggest career movement – in Green’s case, a move away from broad mainstream comedy and back towards the smalltown drama of All The Real Girls and Snow Angels (criminally, never released in the UK), while Reichardt’s film is a good indication that the director may someday cross over on her own terms, having made a crisp, clean arthouse thriller that also works a traditional level.

To start with David Gordon Green’s Joe, this also sees Nicolas Cage returning to a much more complex character than his usual parade of grotesques. Here he plays Joe Ransome, the boss of a logging company who recruits local labourers to cut down trees in the area to make for a reforestation project. Into his orbit comes Gary Jones (Mud’s Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old boy who asks for a job and won’t take no for an answer.  The kid comes from a family of vagrants, his father is a deadbeat drunk (the incredible Gary Poulter), and though Joe sees the old man hitting the boy, he refuses to intervene. Joe has anger issues, it transpires; he is trying to control them, and his short fuse – although, for dramatic reasons, it’s actually quite long – sizzles ominously throughout the movie.

Perhaps inspired by his old college-mate Jeff Nichols, Green’s film has a touch of the romantic Southern fable about it, mostly in the substitute father-son relationship that lies at the core, but Green’s film has a curiously wayward tone that sometimes feels more indebted to Harmony Korine than Mark Twain. This doesn’t make for a massively cohesive movie but it does keep things interesting, giving the film an off-kilter rhythm that works nicely in counterpart to the steady beat of the somewhat obvious way that things are going to go.

The best part, however, is the cast, headed by a big, bearded Cage, who flexes his considerable acting chops for the first time in years. Around him, Poulter and Sheridan add a huge amount of authenticity to create a genuine sense of community and place. It’s not quite enough to make the jump into the mainstream, but fans of Cage should seek Joe out for proof that the actor still has some mileage, while US indie completists should see it just to keep up to date.

Reichardt’s film is similarly well cast, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard as members of a loose eco-protest movement who are involved in a bombing attack on a hydro-electric dam. Much of the actual planning is left to the imagination; we meet the group as they prepare to put it into action: buying a boat, getting the right amount of fertilizer and recce’ing the location. I didn’t much care for Reichardt’s last film, Meek’s Cutoff, which seemed to be a willful uninventing of the western – for me, losing most of the things that make making a western worthwhile. Here, though, Reichardt totally has engaged with the rules of the genre, and although they are not obeyed to the letter, this results in an alt-thriller that ripples with tension, paranoia and atmosphere.

It begins very much as a three-piece, but the as the plan takes shape, all camaraderie erodes. This is where the performances really start to shine; Fanning as the twitchy Dena, Sarsgaard as the not quite so experienced as the thinks Harmon and, best of all, Eisenberg as the ever more out of his depth Josh. Reichardt’s film really takes us into their world, perfectly creating an ideological bubble that is going to burst when their ‘perfect’ plan takes an unexpected turn. In bursts, the director’s forensic style is often reminiscent of David Fincher at his economic best, while the cast make a magnificent job of working against each other – yet at the same time creating a solid, cogent unit.

Admirers of Martha Marcy May Marlene should lap this up for its intense, first-person mood, and, although it’s unfair to single her out for special praise, this is perhaps Fanning’s first step into a whole new phase of her career. With careful handling, this could be the slowburn hit that finds the audience The East didn’t.

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