An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.

David Gordon Green is a director with an interesting career behind him. Starting off with a couple of critically acclaimed indies, he’s moved on to directing comedy, with the excellent TV series ‘Eastbound & Down’ coming amidst the critically panned ‘Your Highness’ and ‘The Sitter’. ‘Joe’ (along with last year’s ‘Prince Avalanche’) is a return to those independent roots, and stars Nicolas Cage as the titular character in one of his best roles in years.

Joe (Cage) is a man with a troubled past, who spends his time working in a forest with a team of black men, poisoning bad trees to allow a contractor to come in and remove them, replacing them with good trees. He becomes an unlikely father figure for a 15 year old kid, Gary (Tye Sheridan, who was excellent in Mud, a film which shares similarities with this film), who comes from a damaged home, with a drunken vagrant of a father. Cage is at his finest as the reluctant father figure, trying to keep his troubled past from coming back to haunt him, and there’s signs throughout of the wounded animal waiting to explode in violence. It’s a performance of great restraint from Cage, and he’s matched well by Sheridan, who is fast becoming a highly sought after young actor, following this and strong performances in ‘Mud’ and the TV series ‘Justified’.

Despite Cage and Sheridan’s strong performance, perhaps the biggest surprise is newcomer Gary Poulter as Gary’s alcoholic father Wade. Any sympathy we have for Wade is gradually eroded throughout the film, as his despicable and selfish actions move beyond his mere need for money to buy alcohol. He’s a horrible person with no respect for his son or his family, and one moment of stunning brutality is up there with the toughest things I’ve watched on a cinema screen in a while. The power of this performance is down to Poulter, a homeless man in real life, who was cast by the director, before sadly dying only two months after the film was completed – it’s a remarkable performance and it’s a shame he passed away before he could overcome his personal issues.

Green is a talented director, and he creates a rich landscape which really portrays the ugly murkiness of the area the film is set in. He successfully creates a dangerous atmosphere, with a sense of foreboding as each character spirals towards the conclusion. The ending feels a little neat, but it’s a minor criticism in a very strong film.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: David Gordon Green

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter and Ronnie Gene Blevins

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