JOE (David Gordon Green). 121 minutes. Opens Friday (May 2). For venues and times, see Movie Listings Rating: NNN
Last year's Prince Avalanche got attention for supposedly marking David Gordon Green's return to low-budget rural studies after a string of disposable studio comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter). This project, however, seems even more desperate to recapture the character-based naturalism of the director's breakout works George Washington and All The Real Girls.
Joe takes place in a small Texas town where a troubled alcoholic (Nicolas Cage) who manages a deforestation crew reluctantly takes an abused young boy (Tye Sheridan) under his wing. Tensions build, boiling points are reached.... You know the deal.
Unfortunately, Green's time in Hollywood has calcified his storytelling sense. Languid takes and quiet character development are nice, but Joe has a plot to play out from A to B to C, and it does so in a rigidly schematic manner, with clear good guys and bad guys and innocent children to be rescued from the monsters.
It's Sling Blade without the subtlety, or Mud (which also featured Sheridan as a resourceful teen bonding with a troubled man) without the texture. That said, Cage's commitment to his role - and his insistence on playing it in a minor key - pulls things along admirably.