This David Gordon Green directed film starring Nicolas Cage in the title role as A beneficent ex-con who takes a liking to a young fifteen year old boy, Gary-Tye Sheridan- who although like himself is from the wrong side of the tracks but has qualities that possibly remind him of his own younger self. Adapted from a Larry Brown novel the film focuses on a world which is as far removed from the typical American dream as you could imagine and is all the more atmospheric for it.
The film opens with Gary seeing his malevolent, alcoholic father- an impressive Gary Poulter- receiving yet another beating for ripping off yet another set of people who really shouldn’t be messed with. Disillusioned with his home life and the violent outburst he has to endure during his father’s drunken outbursts Gary volunteers his –and less convincingly his father’s- services as employees to Joe who runs a team which deals with destroying useless trees which pollute the countryside. Initially reticent Joe sees something in the boy which makes him feel protective in a way which is not typical of his usual reaction. In fact up until this point it is hinted that only his beloved dog is the only thing he cares about or has any emotional attachment to.
Actively encouraged by Joe’s support and benevolence Gary starts to look up to and respect Joe, much to his father’s chagrin who then responds with doling out another beating to the newly enlivened and hopeful teenager. Desperate to put the man he feels is stealing his son’s affections in his place Gary’s father proceeds to team up with a nasty piece of work who has his own personal grievances with Joe and matters all conspire to reach an inevitably grimy conclusion.
Green does an admirable job with this film coaxing great performances out of both of his main actors; their relationship grows organically and very convincingly as the movie progresses. It is a very atmospheric and involving film which explores the darker sides of human nature without being either judgmental or selling it in a condescending way as an alternative lifestyle; it simply presents the facts that there are people out there who live like this as it is the only way they know how. Definitely one of the better films I have seen at this year’s film festival so far.