Nicolas Cage, right, plays an ex-con who meets a teen (Tye Sheridan) and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin in 'Joe.' (Linda Kallerus / Roadside Attractions)
In a small Texas town, an ex-con leads a work crew poisoning trees so developers can legally knock them down to build houses.
Talk about a feel-good job. And yet at the same time, that job description offers an instant feel for the world of “Joe” — rough, ugly, a bit crazy and dirty.
Joe (Nicolas Cage) doesn’t seem to feel anything for the trees, but he does have a soft spot for lost souls. Which works out nicely for toughened teen Gary (Tye Sheridan), the son of an abusive wino called G-Daawg (a frighteningly realistic Gary Poulter) whose family is squatting in an abandoned farmhouse.
When Gary comes upon Joe’s crew pumping poison, he asks for a job, and Joe gives him one. The next day Gary comes back with G-Daawg, and Joe puts them to work, except G-Daawg doesn’t work. Joe quickly figures out how pitiful Gary’s home life is and eventually takes on the role of surrogate father.
Meanwhile, Joe’s rough life goes on. He beats up on a longtime enemy, gets in trouble with the cops, visits prostitutes, chases chickens out of friends’ living rooms and smokes cigarette after cigarette while getting drunk nightly. Director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) is going for rural life at its most raw, overdoing it at times but hitting the bull’s eye at others.
It’s a good role for Cage — who hasn’t had many lately — and he brings the weary load of a decent, morally confused man buried beneath a rough life. But it’s young Sheridan’s Gary who makes the film work, with his mix of earnest ambition, stubborn courage and hopeful endurance. He gives “Joe” the honesty it needs.
Rated R for violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content
Running time: 117 minutes