Best brush up on your Texan before seeing David Gordon Green's movie. With much of the cast sporting accents that sound as if they're chewing corn when talking, the temptation to ask "wat dat boy sayin?" is constant and more than a little annoying.
Though he was born in Long Beach and schooled in Beverly Hills, Nicholas Cage has always drawled with aplomb and as the violent ex-con in David Lynch's Wild at Heart, he did it with some style. I'm pretty certain he had a hint of a drawl when he played a dying alcoholic in Mike Figgis's brilliant Leaving Las Vegas but you could forgive him anything then as he was capable of emotional restraint. But something happened to Cage and he started hitting cartoon heights as he over-performed in everything.
It is good, therefore, to see him reining it in to play Joe, a volatile ex-con (yes, another one) who is trying to keep out of trouble while doing a tedious job managing a crew charged with culling trees on behalf of a company that wants to replace them.
The Texan town he lives in is toxic, largely because of its no-hope citizens, many of whom are unemployed - as well as unintelligible.
A 15-year-old boy, Gary (Tye Sheridan), is the single ray of hope, but his efforts to make a better life for himself working for Joe are jeopardised by his violent alcoholic father played by a real-life homeless man (Gary Poulter), who was found on the streets of Austin. He died there three months after the film was finished.
This is a tragedy because Poulter had all the makings of being the next Bruce Dern and the director's attempt to give the film a quasi-documentary feel owes much to his performance, plus that of the tree crew, who are also non-professionals.
As Joe sets out to redeem himself by playing dad to Gary, you will be reminded of Jeff Nichols's Mud, which also starred Sheridan and gave Matthew McConaughey an escape route out of rom-coms. I can't say I loved the film, though Sheridan is set for mainstream stardom and casting agents will be re-evaluating Cage.