A rough diamond, Joe (Nicolas Cage) lives on his own, but keeps an eye out for his dirt poor neighbours, some of whom are barely able to look after themselves.
Joe, on the other hand, is able to look after himself, knows how to hold a killer snake properly and likes to look a man in the eye. He drinks and drives and smokes too much, and pays occasional visits to the local brothel.
His job is supervising the black workers who are paid to poison trees, as the landowner wants to clear the land to re-sow. One day, 15-year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) arrives, looking for work and Joe gives the young lad a start.
Gary's dad is a drunkard; his mother manages to just about keep the home together. Joe begins to look out for the eager young lad, aware of the kid's desperate home circumstances.
But Gary's dad becomes increasingly violent, and you can sense a showdown looming, as Joe gets involved in a parallel row. And who better than Nicolas Cage to dispense justice through the red mist of a blind rage?
Joe is a sensitively-expressed, often moving story, despite a ridiculous goofball sequence between Joe and Gary in the middle that is utterly redundant. Cage carries it all manfully and mightily as the surrogate dad figure, with Sheridan perfect as the young boy coming of age in pitiful circumstances. Impressive, if a mite overblown in the climax.