Posted by Joel Copling on April 10, 2014

In 2013, Jeff Nichols directed an effective Southern-set drama called "Mud," starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role of a criminal on the run and fantastic teen actor Tye Sheridan as his sort-of ward and getaway accomplice. It effectively portrayed the South (in which yours truly lives) as a place fraught with danger and teeming with wildlife. This trait is shared by director David Gordon Green's "Joe," which not coincidentally also co-stars Sheridan as something of a makeshift offspring to its titular character. Sheridan is as impressive here as he was in "Mud," but the film in which he finds himself this time is not as focused, far more familiar, and far less impressive.

Sheridan co-stars as Gary, a down-on-his-luck, 15-year-old kid with a deadbeat dad named Wade (Gary Poulter), whose signature article of clothing labels him "G-Daawg" and whose broadly defined alcoholism at least offers us a chilling, shockingly violent sequence in which his thirst for the drink drives him to kill a homeless man. Gary, meanwhile, looks for release in a job that will busy him from sun up to sun down. He finds it with Joe (Cage), a secretive (We know he is secretive, because why else would he look so serious all the time?) and dangerous guy who manages a crew hired to poison trees that will later be used for lumber.

We also know that Joe is secretive because why else would the manic Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins), with whom Joe has a violent history that remains frustratingly undefined, shoot Joe in the shoulder one day? This sparks the main thrust of the narrative, which is strongest when focused on Gary and his plight. It's far too familiar and given far too much screen time, ultimately colliding with Gary's story in a finale far more convenient than Green or screenwriter Gary Hawkins (working from Larry Brown's novel) would like to admit, to have much impact. By the end, as much as the audience would like to connect with Joe's plight or the destabilization of Gary's youthful innocence, "Joe" seems all too determined to undermine that by way of a familiar story told adequately.

Film Information

Nicolas Cage (Joe), Tye Sheridan (Gary), Gary Poulter (Wade "G-Daawg"), Ronnie Gene Blevins (Willie-Russell), Adriene Mishler (Connie), Sue Rock (Merle), Brenda Isaacs Booth (Mother), Anna Niemtschk (Dorothy), Elbert Evan Hill III (Shorty), Aaron Spivey-Sorrells (Sammy), Brian Mays (Junior), Aj Wilson McPhaul (Earl), Milton Fountain (Milton), Roderick L. Polk (Roscoe).

Directed by David Gordon Green and written by Gary Hawkins, based on the novel by Larry Brown.

Rated R (violence, disturbing material, language, sexual content).

117 minutes.

Released in select cities on April 11, 2014.