An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.
Where our children turn when their parents let them down is one of the most troubling areas for fact and fiction both. Nicolas Cage's checkered career doesn't diminish his strong, heartfelt performance here as Joe, leading a group of workers in the deep woods of some Deep South state doing illegal tree killing. But that's just backdrop, because a teenager, Gary, comes along looking for work, seemingly just from some patch of these rural woods or one of the little backwards towns nearby.
Joe has issues with violence and alcohol, but he's a truly good person deep down below all the conflicts and bad judgments, and he learns that Gary has an abusive father and troubled family. And he gradually gets involved. As this intersection grows, we learn more about Joe's world in the town, about some other guys who have it out for him, and about his sense of honor. It's that kind of world where government of all kinds, including the police, is considered unnecessary to the point of being bad, and instead people have a kind of independence that is sometimes admirable and sometimes pure belligerence.
That's the part of the movie I liked much more than I expected, and was what I took away above all—the portrayal of a kind of life and a kind of people, told with an odd kind of honesty that works.
It doesn't just reside there, however. The plot becomes highly dramatic, even sensational, as some of the shifty characters get motivated to get really violent. There is even a point when it gets so hairy for Joe he does something unthinkable until now—he calls the cops. You'll see, it's an odd turning point. So this vengeance and violence make the plot have teeth, I suppose, and it's fine, but I actually sense another movie that didn't get made here that was toned down two steps and had all these elements and yet kept the focus on the real grit.
And there's Gary, who is a pretty decent kid somehow (his father is about as bad as fathers can get, but his mom had some influence, I guess). We can finally see how a kid can escape a family horror and move on, while growing up and becoming a decent person, maybe another Joe, which oddly enough the world needs. It's worth watching just for all these things. Give it twenty minutes to develop, and it'll click.
- Feb 18, 2015