Deep in rural Texas, Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage) leads a crew of men whose job it is to kill off weak trees in the woods by chipping them with poisoned hatches that inject herbicide. Once the trees die they will be replaced with stronger stock. When Gary Jones, a 15-year-old boy (Tye Sheridan of Mud), asks him for a job, Joe senses that the boy not only needs money, but a role-model, he takes a chance with him that ultimately leads to a role of fatherly protector.
Based on the novel by Larry Brown, directed by David Gordon, this is a gripping tale of deep, destitute poverty and hopelessness in an America that seems to have been left behind in the woods. Gary’s father is a worthless wreck of a man who thinks nothing of beating up his son to get to his few hard-earned dollars so he can buy another bottle of cheap booze. Everyone seems to be living in a daze of alcohol and cigarettes, interspersed with brutal violence, and surrounded by snarling dogs on chains.
In this movie, Nicolas Cage gets back to his indie roots in a gripping performance as a hard-drinking and hot-tempered man who is desperately looking for something worthwhile to live for while he is surrounded by nothing but endless despair everywhere he looks. He occupies his time with mechanical sex with prostitutes, stupefied sessions at a hole-in-the-wall bar and blank-stared gazes from his couch at the TV. Gary seems to give him the purpose he needs.
Relevant Edit: My friends BW and JB commented collectively: The guy who plays the kid’s alcoholic father was actually a homeless man from the Austin area. He died right after the movie came out but he did an excellent job in the movie as well. He may have been an even more compelling character than Cage’s.