Be warned this film involves a very powerful performance from Nicolas Cage, a statement you probably don’t hear very often. The only other time, recently anyway, would have possible been for his portrayal of real life policeman Glenn Flothe in The Frozen Ground (2013).
In David Gordon Greens latest outing, filmed and set in Austin Texas, Cage plays Joe (2013) of the title. Joe is an ex con, he’s the boss of a gang of men that illicitly poisons trees for a living, Joe is also a mess, he drinks and smokes to much. Although Joe has anger problems, which got him his jail sentence of 26 months after he knee capped a policeman with a gun, he has a heart of gold, treats his worker’s fairly, his whores kindly and befriends the young 15 year old Gary after giving him a job. Gary’s family consists of his alcoholic father who regularly beats him and his mother and a sister who has stopped speaking due to circumstances that are only hinted at.
We are again in Winters Bone (2009) and Out of the Furnace (2013) territory, the lower echelons of society where the American dream involves large quantities of alcohol, sudden violence and beaten up 4 wheel drive trucks. Beyond the outward appearances there’s a lonely man who works and plays hard and who befriends and builds a relationship with a 15-year-old boy who accepts responsibilities well beyond his status. These two unlikely human beings form a bond, which is the backbone of the movie, and bring to it an emotional edge that goes beyond the characters outward appearances. As I have said Cage is excellent as is Tye Sheridan, who you may have seen in The Tree of Life (2011) and as Gary in the award winning Mud (2012). This adaption of Larry Browns 1991 novel of the same name has characters you have no trouble in believing in and is a movie that has grit and bite and is rich in atmosphere, which is greatly helped by the director’s regular DOP Tim Orr. Highly recommended.
A rather sad footnote to this movie concerns Gary Poulter who was found dead in a shallow body of water before the film was released. It was Poulter that played Gary’s alcoholic bullying father Wade and was a real life homeless person who suffered from alcoholism and also was diagnosed with cancer. His performance was a case of art imitating real life!