The career of Nicolas Cage is a fascinating one. Depending on who you talk to, you either love or hate this guy. It never falls in between for audiences. I’ve always had a small guilty pleasure for the Cage even when he’s absolutely terrible. It’s almost like he realizes when a film is going bad for him, so he turns the crazy up to eleven. However, there are those rare times that he surprises even me, like his role in Lord of War or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. It doesn’t happen often but when it does Cage can work in a decent performance. The new film Joe finally sees Nicolas Cage exercising dramatic chops again in a sentimental story that is rougher than hell around the edges.

Ty Sheridan– who most people remember from Tree of Life and last year’s Mud– plays Gary, a 15 year old kid who lives a troubled life. His family is poor, and his father is an abusive man who has an alcohol dependency.  Gary is portrayed as somewhat of a lonesome boy and spends a lot of time to himself, sometimes within the woods exploring. One day he comes across Joe, and a group of workers who are going around killing trees in the area.

From here we get a real sense of the fearlessness of Joe’s character. All his men find a snake and dodge it when it comes near, but Joe grabs it by the head without thinking twice. He even tells the men not to kill it because it’s a friend.

Hoping to make some money for his family, Gary approaches Joe about a job for him and his father. After questioning the kid about his past experience, Joe agrees to take the kid as an employee. What Joe does not expect though is that he begins to see a lot of himself in Gary. They both are good people but get pushed easily over the edge because of their past. Joe is an ex-con and has felt pushed around by the law in his life, and people have a way of trying to get under his skin. Gary is just as tough but is bullied by his father who is always battering him and stealing the money he earns.

This is the foundation of where the film bears its shoulders upon, which is the strong relationship between Joe and this boy. Cage’s portrayal of Joe is not by any means someone you would consider a role model, but he’s exactly the right man Gary needs at the right moment. For once Nicolas Cage also realizes how much intensity is needed and knows when to hold back without overacting the scene away. In many ways, he fits the Joe character like a glove.

One thing which will surprise audiences is how dark this film heads in certain places. A few scenes will even make the audience uncomfortable and possibly squeamish. It’s a huge change of pace for David Gordon Green who is relatively known for films like Pineapple Express and Your Highness.  Keep in mind I still haven’t seen some of his other indie work, so I’m not a hundred percent if he’s made a film this dark and violent. However, I have to admit I’m not sure how much of it was needed. At some points it seemed out of place but didn’t take away from the film too much. In addition, some sections of the movie felt as if the editing wasn’t finished and needed more trimming. Especially with some small scenes that didn’t do anything to progress the storyline further.

All that aside, I really enjoyed Joe as a welcomed return for Nicolas Cage. He leads a fantastic cast with other fantastic performances, including newcomer Gary Poulter who delivers a profoundly chilling role as Gary’s abusive father Wade. Apparently this was a man who was actually homeless in real life and was recruited by the filmmakers for this one part. Shortly after he passed away. He did a fantastic job and may he Rest in Peace. Ty Sheridan once again proves he can share the screen with major names, and damn near outperform them. This kid has a strong career ahead of him.

As for Cage, he isn’t on the McConaughey level yet, but Joe is definitely a step in the right direction for his career. If what I’ve been reading is true, it’s quite possible this is the first of many indie projects Nicolas Cage plans to embrace. Here is hoping that ends up being true.