Based on a novel this is a film about a middle aged ex-con Joe (Nicolas Cage) who tries to give young kid, Gary (Tye Sheridan) a chance to escape his upbringing and choose a better path; but Joe’s personal demons are never far from the surface.
I can’t deny this is a powerful film and as much as I like a lot of Nic Cage’s work (my guilty secret) I can’t help but think this film would have been better if someone else had played the main role. In a way it was a fitting role, Joe is a bit unhinged, over the hill, massive beard; Cage’s beard nearly acts everyone else off the screen. It is actually Gary Poulter as Gary’s dad Wade a.k.a. G-Daawg who acts everyone else off the screen. Director David Gordon Green cast a lot of non-actors in this film and Gary Poulter was a homeless man living on the streets of Austin. He is so truly awfully terribly real I cringed every time he appeared, he was by turns pitiful and nasty and sometimes funny. A typical drunk old man, is he going to be good mood drunk or bad mood drunk? You’ll never know and Tye Sheridan shows the frayed nerves and a bellyful of hatred in every scene with him. Sadly but maybe inevitably Gary Poulter died on the streets of Austin a couple of months after filming.
The casting of Tye Sheridan makes this film feel like Cage’s “Mud”; although Sheridan is a promising young actor it was unfortunately another distraction.
Women don’t really get a look in in this film, either weak beaten creatures or whores; this is a film for beards, quite literally.
Joe is full of nasty weirdoes, shocking senseless violence, and despair. Joe is quite frankly depressed about the state of the world and life in general. The intense, brooding music adds a disquieting air, composed by Jeff McIlwain and David Wingo (who also worked on the “Mud” soundtrack).
There’s a dark philosophy to this film, it’s not a date movie or one for those feeling angry or sad. But if you like beards…