Director David Gordon Green has divided his time between broad comedies (Pineapple Express, The Sitter) and thoughtful, lyrical dramas (Snow Angels, Prince Avalanche), but this is the first time he has descended into a world as violent and as hopeless as the one in Joe. Fortunately, Green is as observant as ever, and he not only conjures up a vivid, self-contained universe, but peoples it with fascinating, damaged characters. Yet no matter how lowdown they may appear, Green seems to understand their humanity. In a grim little Texas town, Joe (Nicolas Cage) runs a grim little operation, using chemical-squirting axes to kill all the trees in the woods so that they can be replaced with stronger ones. He supervises a team of African-American workers, and though the work is hard, they all respect him. Everyone in town knows him, too, and knows they can count on him, despite his violent past and his time in prison. When young Gary (Tye Sheridan) comes to Joe for a job, Joe sees something worthy in him and agrees.