This is the story about an ex-convict who befriends a teen-age boy being abused by his father. Joe (played by Nicolas Cage) works with a group of black men in the forest treating trees to kill the ones which have no use for the owners by using a hatchet to inject poison, since the lumber company cannot cut them down unless they are dead.
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A teenage boy Gary (played by Tye Sheridan) while sitting on the railroad tracks argues with his father (played by Gary Poulter) calling him a no-good drunk who always gets them in trouble. His father does not say a word, just slaps him, and walks away. The boy walks off in another direction. He walks up on Joe and his men right while Joe has caught a snake. He asks Joe for a job. Joe hires him on the spot and pays him at the end of the day.
After work, Joe goes to the whorehouse to see his favorite girl then he stops by some friends who are butchering a deer they shot. He teaches them how to butcher it. When he comes outside, he is shot at by a guy in a truck. Joe is hit. It is not a serious wound, which he takes care of by himself.
The boy's father is drunk. The boy tries to convince him to go to town to get some food with the money he earned. He takes the bottle away from his father teasing him about being drunk. His father is too drunk to go. The boy walks towards town. He encounters the guy who shot Joe throwing the gun off the bridge. The guy attacks him, but the boy beats him down. His father has come up from behind and watches the whole thing.
The boy brings his father to work with him the next day. The father is lazy and does not work very hard. The father gets in a fight with one of the black men. Joe fires the boy and his father at the end of the day when he drops them off at their home. The father blames the boy. He hits him in front of Joe. The boy comes to Joe to beg him to put him back to work. Even it is raining, which stops the work in the forest, the boy tells Joe he would work in the rain if he needs him to. Joe takes a liking to the boy, because he reminds him of himself when he was young. Joe buys him some food, then tells him, he can come back to work without his father. IN another location ,the father kills a homeless guy to rob him of a bottle of cheap wine.
The guy who shot Joe finds the Joe in a bar. He picks a fight with Joe by talking to him about the boy. He pretends to want to make peace. They fight. Joe easily subdues him and could kill him. Joe barely restrains himself. He asks the bartender to call the cops before someone gets kills. He goes to the whorehouse. There is a dog at the door that always attacks him. He goes home, gets his dog, returns to the whorehouse, and tells his dog to kill the other one. Then he has quick sex. He gets pulled over by the cops on his way home. He sets his dog loose to run away before they arrest him.
At the boy's home which is a condemned house, the father demands money. The father beats him. Even though the boy could retaliate easily, he takes the beating without fighting back. He restrains himself so he can stay with the family to help his mom and his sister. Joe gets out of jail. He looks for his dog. The boy comes over. Joe tells the boy the story of how he went to prison for assaulting a police officer who mistakenly thought Joe was after his girl. The boy helps him look for his dog. Joe allows him to drive and they drink beers while they look for the dog. Joe teaches him how to make a cool face by first showing pain, then smiling through it. The boy suggests they go to the last place Joe saw the dog, and they find it there.
While driving alone, Joe finds the boy's father walking down the road. He stops. He warns the man if he harms the boy anymore he will have to deal with Joe. Joe completes the deal with the boy about the truck and gives it to him when he buys a new truck. Meanwhile, the boy's father and the guy who shot Joe make plans to ambush Joe. Joe is pulled over by the police on the way driving home for no reason. He resists arrest, takes the gun away from the police officer, and threatens to beat him if the police do not stop harassing him. Joe drives away. The sheriff, Earl (played by Aj Wilson McPhaul), who is his friend, comes to visit Joe at his house to talk to him about calming down so he will not go back to prison. Then he leaves without arresting him. The boy shows up at Joe's house all beaten up, telling Joe his father stole his truck from him and ran off with his sister. He tells Joe his father is working with the man who shot Joe. He tells Joe he is going to kill his father and he needs is to borrow the new truck from Joe to save his sister. Joe tries to talk him out of it, but he refuses to listen. Joe goes with him instead.
The father allows the men to rape his daughter for $30 apiece, while they wait for Joe to show up. Joe arrives just in time to stop them raping her. She escapes with her brother. They drive off to get help. There is a shoot out. Joe takes out the two men, but also is shot in the process. He goes after the father of the boy who is standing on the nearby bridge. The father jumps off the bridge committing suicide. The cops arrive. They find Joe almost dead on the bridge. The boy hugs him just before he dies.
Soon after, the boy has Joe's dog, gets another job, and lives on to take care of his mother and sister.
Best part of story, including ending:
The low-life in this movie seem like they were cast from actual people living in such a condition, because they are so realistic.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when the Sheriff Earl comes to Joe's house after Joe resisted arrest and got away from the police, because he comes to talk with Joe, not arrest him. It is nice that he recognizes Joe as a good man even if he is hot-tempered.
Opinion about the main character:
Joe's sacrifice of himself for the boy at the end is very touching. Even though Joe dies, the ending feels like a good one.