Joe and Gary first meet when Gary, determined to leave his father and a life of poverty behind, looks for work and encounters a group of men illegally poisoning trees so a lumber company can cut them down and plant new ones. Joe seems to have a soft spot for Gary and gives him work. As their relationship develops, Joe becomes an alternate father figure. Like many fathers, Joe sees some of himself in Gary but wants better for the boy. Joe slowly becomes more involved in the boy’s life and the film explores what kind of man he is and how far he will go to ensure Gary’s path doesn’t mirror his own.
Joe is directed by David Gordon Green who is most recently known for his stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness, but seems to be channeling his filmmaking roots like he once did with his first two films George Washington and All the Real Girls by focusing on struggling people in small town America. On the visual side, Green often employs a bleak set of colors (browns, greens) but is still able to capture the natural beauty of this rural area in a way that can be oddly peaceful at times. He used a similar style in another film, Prince Avalanche. Rain is also common throughout the film and while it visually sets a more dreary tone it also acts as a story device that limits the tree crew from working.
Overall Joe does an excellent job of examining an unusual relationship between a young, abused boy and a new father figure. While many of the situations of the film are tragic, it shows that even when old trees are chopped down they make way for new ones to grow.