Filmmaker David Gordon Green saw his "Prince Avalanche" premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and hit theaters in early August. So it may seem sudden for him to also being unveiling "Joe" with star Nicolas Cage at the Venice Film Festival this week ahead of also appearing soon in Toronto.
Adapted by Gary Hawkins from a 1991 novel by the late author Larry Brown, the film seems to find Green returning to the Southern Gothic of his "Undertow" mixed with the intense drama of "Snow Angels." Regardless, it puts him clearly back in his roots of indie drama and away from the big-budget studio comedies such as "Pineapple Express" and "Your Highness" that he has made in recent years.
Cage plays a man who runs a crew of "tree poisoners" for a local lumber company, rendering healthy trees sick so they can be cut down. Cage's Joe takes a young boy (Tye Sheridan) under his wing.
In Variety, Justin Chang singled out Cage for his "excellent, tightly wound performance" while noting the film overall was "rich in rural texture but low on narrative momentum or surprise."
For the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney noted that "while its simmering violence and dread are sustained with impressive slow-burn conviction, the film will be too punishingly grim for many audiences."
The film has also garnered numerous comparisons to Jeff Nichols' "Mud," in which Sheridan also appeared and which has been a surprise box office success this year. That could help the prospects for "Joe," which is going into the fall festival circuit looking for distribution.
The film also marks the first and sadly last screen appearance for Gary Poulter, who plays the alcoholic father of Sheridan's character. Green cast Poulter when the latter was living homeless on the streets of Austin, Texas, and Poulter passed away shortly after filming was finished.
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun