Joe kills trees. He makes his living by poisoning unwanted forests in order for new, stronger pines to be planted in their place. He also employs men to do the same; men that he trusts to work hard and whom he pays fairly. Joe drinks too much and has made enemies in his home town. Despite these and many other obvious flaws, Joe is a good man. We trust Joe and we root for him. We never learn much about his past or his personality but we’re immediately on his side. When a teenage boy and his abusive, alcoholic father arrive in town, Joe is the first to offer the boy a chance. Joe employs young Gary, enabling him to earn money to protect his family and begin to forge his own path. Joe becomes a role model to Gary, despite his criminal past and his numerous personal problems. All Gary needs is someone to believe in him and assist him in bettering himself. This gritty tale of one man’s narrow walk between redemption and damnation makes for enjoyable viewing although it doesn’t grip us quiet tightly enough.
Nicolas Cage is the star power behind this independent thriller that otherwise may not have made it to the screen. Cage’s performance is inconsistent. For the most part he is believably bruised and boarded up from the world but occasionally falls into clichéd line delivery and his typically wooden performance style; and thus continues the pop-culture mystery of Cage. Tye Sheridan who has impressed prior to this in Mud and The Tree of Life gives a sturdy performance as our ambitious and abused teen co-protagonist. There seems to be a surge of these rough and realistic coming-of-age thrillers hitting cinemas recently and Joe‘s lack of climax or conviction may cause it to become forgotten amidst an array of stronger competitors, such as Kat Candler’s Hellion. Joe makes for perfectly good viewing but is a little too heavy on its tree-themed metaphors and has a rather predictable plot. The film’s most captivating scenes involve Gary’s violent and troubled father played by a real homeless gentleman, Gary Poulter. Poulter brings a sad truth, but also a nastiness, to his character who we watch stoop to lower and lower means of feeding his addiction. Unfortunately, Poulter apparently died on the streets of Austin only months after they finished filming. Joe is a good example of what’s fashionable on this year’s festival circuits. A satisfying tragedy that subtly introduces sparks of humour amongst an otherwise sombre story.
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