Nicolas Cage delivers a performance of true sensitivity and depth in this absorbing drama.

An ex-con leading a tree-poisoning crew for a lumber company in the Deep South, Cage’s Joe is reckless, volatile and hot headed. Yet he has a fundamentally decent core, as becomes clear when he takes a downtrodden 15-year-old boy (Tye Sheridan) under his wing.

The film is laden with symbolism – with Joe much like the doomed trees destined to make way for young saplings – but director David Gordon Green creates such a convincing sense of gritty, sweat-soaked authenticity that this never gets in the way of the story.

In a tragic footnote to the film, Gary Poulter, the homeless, non-professional actor who plays the boy’s violent alcoholic father and more than holds his own opposite Cage, died a few months after filming ended.