'Joe,' Nicolas Cage as tormented Texan
*** (out of four stars)
Directed by David Gordon Green. With Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Adriene Mishler. 1 hour, 57 mins. Rated R (violence, profanity, sex, adult themes). Playing at: Ritz Bourse and Bryn Mawr Film Institute.
With shades of last year's Mississippi Delta drama, Mud - and with its teen star, Tye Sheridan, again in a key role - Joe offers a bourbon-soaked character study of a tormented Texas tree cutter and the "little drifter kid" he befriends.
Nicolas Cage, sporting tattoos and working his way through cartons of smokes, has the title role of an ex-con (two-plus years for assaulting a police officer) with a backwoods existential view: "What's the point in any of it? It's all just gonna boil up and wash us away."
Joe runs a crew of day laborers who take hatchets filled with poison to trees not worth keeping. Along comes Gary (Sheridan), son of an abusive itinerant drunk. Joe gives him a job, and some life lessons, the dog-eat-dog kind.
Adapted from Larry Brown's 1991 novel by the able David Gordon Green (the stoner hit Pineapple Express, the blacktop Beckett-like Prince Avalanche), this Lone Star tale of losers and the lost evokes weedy, back-porch blues.
Nothing goes right, a lot goes wrong, there are guns and a pit bull, hookers and a sympathetic sheriff, a bar with a Confederate flag, and a grocery with jerky and liquor. It's good to see Cage flex his muscles (and flare his nostrils) in something rooted in a notion of the real world.
But this world feels studied in its "authenticity": the rusted GMC pickup, the tumbledown shack, the boozy brothel, and angry Joe Ransom guttin' deer and tending to his own gunshot wounds with a grimace and a bottle of alcohol. - Steven Rea