Nowadays Nicolas Cage only has to be pretty good to seem pretty great. Was this his plan all along? The title role in Joe is a subtle turn by recent Cage standards, and it gets up our hopes of some deeply redemptive moment for the chronic overactor. But in the end, it's still kitsch, albeit more subdued than usual. Joe, a Southerner, makes his shabby livelihood poisoning trees so lumber companies can replace them for profit. He's an ex-con with a violent but righteous temper, and the movie presents him like a germinal superhero, bonding fatefully with a teenager, well played by Tye Sheridan, who wants a job and by extension an escape from his own abusive alcoholic father. History will have to judge Joe's contribution to the ongoing epidemic of movies so lazily titled that all they can manage to do is take their main character's common first names; the usual first consequence of that choice is forgettability. At least in Mud, another sylvan Southern tale with the marvelously truthful young actor Sheridan getting rustic tutelage in the art of manhood (that time from Matthew McConaughey), the name in question wasn't exactly common. In Joe's defense, it was adapted from a 1991 novel of the same name by the late Mississippi author Larry Brown. The film implies a return to roots not just for Cage, but for director David Gordon Green, whose larkish, lulling indie Prince Avalanche didn't quite redeem him after the sub-par stoner romp Your Highness. But all it really makes good on is a delivery of coarse brutality and rural Southern stereotypes.
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