David Gordon Green directed some of the best American movies of the new century (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow), then went to Hollywood and directed some of the worst (Your Highness, The Sitter). I’m too disgusted with his sell-out phase to ever really admire him again, but I must concede that this adaptation of a Larry Brown novel ranks among his best work. Nicolas Cage—another gifted artist who never met a dollar he didn’t like—turns in a powerful performance as the title character, a brooding backwoods loner who runs a day-labor forestry crew; Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) holds his own against Cage as a scrappy teenager who hires on with the crew, and whose desperate need for a father figure brings out the best in Joe. Brown was a wonderfully plainspoken writer, the poet laureate of the poor white southerner, and his story offers Green the sort of hard-hearted wisdom one probably doesn’t get hanging out with James Franco and Jonah Hill.
R • 1 hour 57 min • 2014