David Gordon Green‘s competition title Joe debuted for the press here in Venice this morning. A serious, sometimes violent story, it’s been well-received on the Lido with star Nicolas Cage getting some very strong notices. He plays the titular character, a good man working hard to stifle inner demons. A chance at redemption, and perhaps a new direction in life, comes in the form of Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old whose drifter family has settled nearby. Gordon Green likens the film, based on the novel by Larry Brown, to a Western. (The Worldview Entertainment-backed pic is being handled by CAA for domestic and there were buyers — and applause — at the screenings this morning.)

Joe is the helmer’s 9th film and is “distinct” from the previous ones he’s made, “I think it stands out,” he said today. But he allows that the films in his body of work have “themes that thread them all together like a bizarre quilt.” He and Cage expressed their mutual appreciation during a press conference this afternoon. Gordon Green said that had he been physically able, he would have done backflips when he learned that Cage responded to the script. Cage said he hadn’t seen the finished movie yet, but that he would have done somersaults “naked” to work with Gordon Green. “He is willing to bear his soul. I knew he was a kindred spirit.”

In one of the other key roles – that of Gary’s alcoholic father – is the late Gary Poulter. When he was cast, Poulter was a homeless man living on the streets of Austin where the film shot. Gordon Green says he saw in him “something that I really believed needed to be expressed… He helped us in ways I can’t even describe.” Cage chimed in to say, “I thought he’d be the next Richard Farnsworth.” Poulter passed away shortly after filming was completed.

And, in what’s becoming a bit of a trend at these conferences, there was yet another reference to Ben Affleck as Batman. Cage was once attached to play Superman in Tim Burton’s ultimately shelved Superman Lives. Given that history, and his renown as a comic book fan, he was asked for his opinion on the recent casting news. His answer: “I’m happy for Ben, genuinely. He’s a good actor who’s always done excellent work. Great for him.”