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I don't think that I am stepping too far out of line by suggesting that Nicolas Cage has had a somewhat spotty cinematic track record as of late—factor out the rare excellent films such as " Adaptation " and " Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans " and the occasional cult curiosity like " Knowing " or the wildly underrated and genuinely misunderstood remake of "The Wicker Man" and one is left with one chunk of junk after another that has seen him squander his considerable talents. Perhaps even Cage himself has begun to realize that something needed to change because his latest film, the powerful drama "Joe," could not be further removed from his recent string of failures and his work in it is one of the keys to its success. This is not just the best performance that he has given in ages—this is one of the very best performances of his long and strange career.

Cage plays Joe Ransom, a man who we can see has had a dark and brutal past even before we learn any of the details. He drinks and gambles, keeps an exceptionally nasty bulldog as his only real companion and has a long-running feud with a local tough guy ( Ronnie Gene Blevins ) that grows more violent with each exchange. On the other hand, he is reasonably friendly and gregarious to those he trusts and inspires a lot of loyalty in return, especially in regards to the road crew of day laborers that he employs to poison trees on behalf of a local lumber company.

One day, a new kid named Gary ( Tye Sheridan ) shows up looking for work and Joe is impressed with his strong work ethic. He begins to take Gary under his wing and soon discovers that he is squatting in an abandoned house with his mother, sister and his father, Wade ( Gary Poulter ), a monstrous and abusive drunk whose idea of a hard day's work is smacking his son around and taking the kid's earnings for himself. Joe does what he can for Gary and a real friendship develops between the two but at a certain point, it becomes painfully evident that he can either ignore the boy's plight and watch him go down into the darkness that once consumed him or step in to save the kid, even at the cost of everything that he has struggled to achieve.

Based on the 1991 novel by Larry Brown , "Joe" was directed by David Gordon Green , and, like his star, his is a career that has also undergone a couple of inexplicable twists and turns. After making his debut with the extraordinary indie film " George Washington ," he went on to make the equally compelling dramas " All the Real Girls ," " Undertow " and "Snow Angels" before making his unexpected mainstream breakthrough with the decidedly different stoner comedy " Pineapple Express ." That movie was pretty funny but he followed that up with " Your Highness ," a fantasy spoof that is one of the biggest botches made by a recognizably great filmmaker of recent times, and " The Sitter ," another misfired comedy whose main selling point is that it wasn't quite as unwatchable as its predecessor.

Green returned to his low-budget roots last year with the amiable comedy-drama " Prince Avalanche " and with "Joe," he firmly reestablishes himself as one of the great American filmmakers of our time. With its rural setting and a narrative structure that is more interested in developing character and mood than it is in going from plot point to plot point, this material is right up Green's alley but rather than simply going through the familiar paces in the hopes of reestablishing his artistic credibility, he finds new ways to challenge himself as a storyteller. Although the basic plot, adapted for the screen by Gary Hawkins , may sound fairly familiar, he approaches it in a manner that is both shockingly intimate in its details and borderline mythic in terms of the emotional upheaval that the characters go through—you might have to go back to Charles Laughton's classic " The Night of the Hunter ," another Southern Gothic masterpiece of note, to see anything like it.

One of Green's great gifts as a filmmaker is his ability to create a real sense of mood and place throughout. With the aid of some excellent location scouting and the contributions of ace cinematographer Tim Orr (who has shot all of Green's previous features), "Joe" presents a world that will ring true to audiences at all points of the socio-economic spectrum—a place where friendship and loyalty are more than mere buzzwords even as the threat of unimaginable violence and brutality lurks around every corner, whether it comes from the bite from a venomous snake or a punch from an equally poisonous father—without ever coming across as forced or condescending. Green is a truly empathetic filmmaker and his ability to put audiences in the shoes of his characters has never been better than it is here.

Cage is amazing here as Joe—fully divested of the quirky mannerisms that have dogged most of his performances of late, he has created a characterization that is as spare, lean and undeniably effective as anything he has ever done. Whether he is tapping into some extremely dark areas of Joe's psyche or slowly bonding with Gary, Cage is so fully immersed in the character that there is never a moment when we catch him acting—his movie star aura disappears and he simply becomes Joe. Whether this means that he is leaving the obvious junk behind to focus on smarter, smaller projects remains to be seen (and he does have the new film version of "Left Behind" on the horizon), his work here is the first evidence in a while that the actor that first knocked viewers out back in the day has resurfaced.

The other stunning performance in the film comes from Gary Poulter as Gary's vile father, one of the most indelible depictions of pure evil that you will ever see. Not recognizing the name or his face, I looked him up after the screening and was stunned to discover that he was a homeless man who had never acted before (with the exception of Cage and Sheridan, the rest of the cast consists of non-professionals) that Green knew and cast in a role that would have challenged most "real" actors. Sadly, Poulter died shortly after the completion of this film, making it one of the great one-shot performances in the history of the cinema.

Make no mistake, "Joe," although possessing a certain degree of welcome dark humor at certain points and a sense of ultimate redemption that feels earned for once, is a defiantly bleak work that contains moments of physical and emotional violence brutal enough to startle even the most hardened of moviegoers. For anyone simply looking for a light and breezy film to sort of watch while passing away a Saturday night, it might not be the best choice. However, if your moviegoing needs are driven less by a need to "feel good" afterwards and more by a desire to see something that will grab and touch you in ways that you will not be shaking anytime soon, this is the movie for you.

Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around  bon vivant , Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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Joe movie poster

Rated R for violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content

117 minutes

Nicolas Cage as Joe Ransom

Tye Sheridan as Gary

Gary Poulter as Wade

Ronnie Gene Blevins as Willie

  • David Gordon Green
  • Gary Hawkins
  • Larry Brown

Cinematography by

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2013, Drama, 1h 57m

What to know

Critics Consensus

Rich in atmosphere and anchored by a powerful performance from Nicolas Cage, Joe is a satisfying return to form for its star -- as well as director David Gordon Green. Read critic reviews

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Joe   photos.

The rough-hewn boss (Nicolas Cage) of a lumber crew courts trouble when he steps in to protect the youngest member (Tye Sheridan) of his team from an abusive father.

Rating: R (Language|Disturbing Material|Some Strong Sexual Content|Violence)

Genre: Drama

Original Language: English

Director: David Gordon Green

Producer: Lisa Muskat , David Gordon Green , Christopher Woodrow , Derrick Tseng

Writer: Gary Hawkins

Release Date (Theaters): Apr 11, 2014  limited

Release Date (Streaming): Feb 16, 2016

Box Office (Gross USA): $371.9K

Runtime: 1h 57m

Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Production Co: Worldview Entertainment

Cast & Crew

Nicolas Cage

Tye Sheridan

Gary Poulter

Ronnie Gene Blevins

Willie-Russell

Adriene Mishler

AJ Wilson McPhaul

Heather Kafka

Brenda Isaacs Booth

Anna Niemtschk

Elbert Evan Hill III

Elbert Hill Jr.

David Gordon Green

Gary Hawkins

Screenwriter

Lisa Muskat

Christopher Woodrow

Derrick Tseng

Maria Cestone

Executive Producer

Molly Conners

Sarah E. Johnson

Hoyt David Morgan

Brad Coolidge

Todd J. Labarowski

Danny McBride

Cinematographer

Colin Patton

Film Editing

David Wingo

Original Music

Jeff McIlwain

Chris Spellman

Production Design

Helen Britten

Set Decoration

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Critic Reviews for Joe

Audience reviews for joe.

In this remake of a 1970 film by the same name, Nicholas Cage plays Joe, an ex-con and unlikely hero to a fifteen year old boy. The story is called Joe, and you'll figure out why by the end, but to be honest, I saw this film more as a coming of age story, with the majority of the focus on Gary (Tye Sheridan). Gary's family is difficult to say the least, both his parents are drug addicts, and it's up to him to earn a living to support his sister. One day while out in the woods, he comes across Joe, a man who owns a lumber company and persuades him to give him a job. Gary is a hard worker who comes to see his boss as more of a father figure than his own father, and when things get bad, he's turns to Joe for help. Joe is no saint though, as he has his own criminal past and is reluctant to get involved. This is one of these really dark, slow moving dramas, where everything may or may not be important to the story. The real action is spaced out, but when something happens, the intensity is off the charts. This film is very similar to, Winter's Bone, which also had a young lead trying to save her siblings. While Tye Sheridan is not Jennifer Lawrence, his more quiet demeanor makes him more likable in the eyes of the viewer. Sheridan is a kid who came out of nowhere to star in the independent film, Mud, and since then has become known for making these super dark, intense films, where he plays a quiet, reserved character that one can't help but root for. Nicholas Cage is equally as good in a role that is more dramatic than most of things he's done lately. That being said, Cage still has it and together with Sheridan make for one of the most interesting and unique films I've seen all year. The story and even the trailer seem to be a little dull, most people will look at this film and see it as too slow and dramatic, and at first, I thought so too, but as the film progresses it just gets better and better, ascending to the level of a must see movie.

joe movie reviews

Surprisingly good. Cage is good here, as is this film in general. I'm glad he made this...as much as I enjoy his bad films as of late, it's kind of sad at the same time. Good for him for a making a solid film like this. It's actually a good contribution to the film world for once.

A grimy, dirty story of an ex-con named Joe (Nicolas Cage), who is running a successful tree poisoning business, until he slowly starts to become a father figure to an abused young boy (Tye Sheridan) who desperately wants to work for him and get away from his dangerous father (the late Gary Poulter). This film resembles "Mud" in many ways, especially by the presence of Sheridan who was in that film as well. However, what made "Mud" special was how the plot unfolded in a natural way and there seemed to be some direction behind the plot narrative. Here, the direction seems scattershot, like it does not know where it is going or what the point of the story is outside of "abuse is bad". The real treat here is the absolutely outstanding acting, especially from Cage who shows once again why he is one of the best actors on the planet when he is not doing stupid, silly blockbusters. Sheridan is special as well, and Poulter (an actual homeless man discovered and casted by the director) is Shakespearean level terrifying in his portrayal of a man with truly no soul. The movie has good intentions, and David Gordon Green is usually a solid director, but the way the plot unravels seems a bit contrived at times. Still, it may be worth seeing just for the performances alone, which are as said fantastic all-around.

A blisteringly intense, compelling and very powerful movie. Director, David Gordan Green finally returns to form with this southern drama that's gritty, gripping, deeply moving and brings us one of the best performances of Nicolas Cage's career.Green's best movie in years. Nicolas Cage has never been better, finally a return to greatness performance that shows he still has the goods. Cage is a total powerhouse, this movie is a must-see for his performance alone. An unforgettable piece of work by a great director and a tremendous star. Tye Sheridan gives a great and effective performance. This movie digs deep in all the right ways and hits you emotionally and hits you hard in the gut. This is strong drama at its very finest, its brilliant, riveting and haunting. A knockout. One of 2014's most impressive films by far. Bravo to all the work they put in on this one.

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Nicolas Cage & Tye Sheridan in Joe

Joe review – these woods are lovely, dark and deep

H ere is a seething piece of social-realist Southern gothic, featuring a powerful performance from a big and broodingly bearded Nicolas Cage . It's a film that also appears to mark the end of the weirdest auteur-detour in modern movie history.

In 2000, the then 25-year-old director David Gordon Green released his first movie, George Washington, a luminous, unhurried, gorgeously photographed coming-of-age picture set in North Carolina which seemed to announce him as the heir to Terrence Malick .His followup features did little to change that impression. Here was a deeply serious film-maker with a genuine sense of the spiritual.

Then something freaky happened. Green took a sudden left turn into broad fratpacker comedy, giving us the stoner adventure Pineapple Express (2008), the cod-medieval spoof Your Highness (2011) and an episode or two of the Danny McBride HBO TV comedy Eastbound and Down. Really, hardly any of the authorial signature of his earlier phase was present in these commercial romps, and they so dismayed and affronted many critics that some dismissed this new direction as evidence of a brain tumour. I myself was as startled as everyone else, though not offended, and I thought Your Highness was funny and much underrated. And actually, there is a residually "serious" moment in Pineapple Express: when the two guys begin to get high, the mood and tempo shifts, briefly, to Gordon's previous, quasi-visionary manner. Now, with this latest film, Green has fully rediscovered his first, Malickian, style – though there is, interestingly, a tiny hint of wackiness.

Joe is slow cinema, or at least slower than the quick-fire world of comedy Green has left behind. So perhaps this really is his true style;  or perhaps it is comedy that will turn out to have been his real vocation. Either way, it should be said that slow cinema is no more real than fast cinema, no more real than the frantically paced editing of superhero movies or action thrillers. It is another artificial convention, but one that makes Joe such an effective and absorbing movie.

Green has found exactly the right actor to bring him back to a more contemplative style: Nicolas Cage, that great, horse-faced player who possesses a sense of both the extravagant and the absurd that makes him castable in both serious pictures and comedies. (He could easily have been in Your Highness.)

He plays Joe, a big guy who has done a little jail time for assaulting a police officer, and still gets into fights, but is now semi-reformed, and has a responsible position managing a crew of workers in the deforestation business. His job is clearing woodland by first injecting poison into the trees that need to be removed, using a special chemical-dispensing hatchet. There could hardly be a more poignant symbol for this film's unsentimental and yet fully engaged approach to the natural world: poisoning trees. Joe is unmarried, is devoted to his mean dog, has an on-off girlfriend, visits the local whorehouse (whose own mean dog he very much resents) and just gets around. The movie roams around with him with an easy swing.

But Joe is on the verge of some kind of self-questioning crisis, which is accelerated when a kid asks him for work. This kid is Gary (very well played by Tye Sheridan, who was a comparable youngster in Jeff Nichols's Mud, and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life). He is a dirt-poor but hard-working and personable boy, being abused by his violent dad, Wade, who is remarkably played by non-professional actor Gary Poulter – a once-homeless man recruited specifically for this movie. Joe senses he could be a father figure to Gary.

Cage carries the movie, with admirable support from Sheridan. And they do indeed have a "funny" scene when quasi-father and pseudo-son take off together, drunk, and Joe appears to mentor Gary in how to attract women and how to look fascinating: how, for example, to look like you're smiling through some inner emotional pain. Was Cage doing some improvisation, based on acting tricks of his own? It's a very funny moment, which actually deepens the rest of the film.

Fans of Cage are always on the alert for this actor's tendency to pump up the volume. There is no sudden shouting here, but a very Cagean histrionic flash, when he fearlessly (and again, symbolically) grabs a deadly snake by the neck and shows off its gaping fangs to his cowering, sniggering men. He himself has real bite, and so does this film.

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Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in Joe (2013)

An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin. An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin. An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.

  • David Gordon Green
  • Gary Hawkins
  • Larry Brown
  • Nicolas Cage
  • Tye Sheridan
  • Gary Poulter
  • 170 User reviews
  • 179 Critic reviews
  • 74 Metascore
  • 4 wins & 9 nominations

Joe

  • Wade a.k.a. G-Daawg

Ronnie Gene Blevins

  • Willie-Russell

Adriene Mishler

  • (as Brian D. Mays)

Aj Wilson McPhaul

  • (as A.J. Wilson McPhaul)

Sue Rock

  • (as Brenda Isaacs-Booth)

Anna Niemtschk

  • (as Elbert Evan Hill III)

Aaron Spivey-Sorrells

  • John Coleman

Lico Reyes

  • Blind George
  • All cast & crew
  • Production, box office & more at IMDbPro

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Did you know

  • Trivia David Gordon Green often casts locals in his movies. Gary Poulter was a homeless man in Austin. Poulter died on the streets of Austin on Feb. 19, 2013, 2 months after filming ended.
  • Goofs When Gary takes off his vest by Joe's truck, his shirt pulls up and a microphone cable is visible going into his waistband.

[repeated line]

Willie-Russell : I went through a windshield at 4 o'clock one morning and I don't give a fuck.

  • Connections Featured in The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon: Nicolas Cage/Emily VanCamp/Kiss (2014)
  • Soundtracks Annihilate Written by Weston Cage Performed by Eyes of Noctum Published by Sonitus Noir Music (BMI) Courtesy of Morbid Rose Records

User reviews 170

  • estebangonzalez10
  • Apr 28, 2014

Proof That Nic Cage is THE National Treasure

Editorial Image

  • How long is Joe? Powered by Alexa
  • April 11, 2014 (United States)
  • United States
  • Official site
  • Austin, Texas, USA
  • Worldview Entertainment
  • Dreambridge Films
  • Muskat Filmed Properties
  • See more company credits at IMDbPro
  • $4,000,000 (estimated)
  • Apr 13, 2014

Technical specs

  • Runtime 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Dolby Digital

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Indie drama is well made but extremely grim and brutal.

Joe Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Perhaps the harshest of all the messages in this d

Joe tries to be a good role model to Gary, but eve

Some shocking scenes of violence involving a 15-ye

The main character visits a whorehouse several tim

Language includes regular use of very strong words

Characters drink Coca-Cola from visible/recognizab

One of the secondary characters is a raging, viole

Parents need to know that Joe is an intense, often brutal indie drama starring Nicolas Cage, directed by David Gordon Green, and based on a novel by Larry Brown. Violent content includes fighting, guns, and blood, as well as very upsetting scenes of a father threatening and beating his 15-year-old son and…

Positive Messages

Perhaps the harshest of all the messages in this dark drama are that a young teen needs to learn to grow up fast and that father figures are flawed and scarce. An older man tries to go straight but is unable to avoid his violent nature.

Positive Role Models

Joe tries to be a good role model to Gary, but even though he manages several good deeds and gives the boy a vague sense of direction, his drinking, smoking, and violent behavior tend to get in the way.

Violence & Scariness

Some shocking scenes of violence involving a 15-year-old boy. The boy's father hits and threatens the boy several times. A creepy man on a bridge picks a fight with him and slaps his face; the boy beats him up. The main character receives a shotgun blast to the shoulder, with blood spattering. The main character sics his dog on another dog, and there's a background image of the second dog, dead, in a pool of blood. The first dog has blood on its chops. An old man kills a wino with a rusty wrench. A character almost stabs another with a broken bottle in a bar fight. The main character helps carve steaks from a dead deer. Plus other strong scenes of arguing and fighting.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

The main character visits a whorehouse several times. One shot shows an unidentified man having sex with a prostitute, with the man's thrusting backside visible. The main character asks another prostitute to "blow me." The main character seems to have a girlfriend who stays with him for a brief period. They are shown passionately kissing and cuddling on the couch. Also some very strong innuendo.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Language includes regular use of very strong words, including "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "hell," and "goddamn."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Characters drink Coca-Cola from visible/recognizable cans in several scenes, and it's mentioned by name once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the secondary characters is a raging, violent alcoholic who's willing to kill for a drink. The main character drinks a great deal, both beer and mixed drinks. He also smokes cigarettes in most scenes and has withdrawal symptoms when he can't smoke. He gives beer to a 15-year-old boy, and they drink too much while driving around (looking for a lost dog). General talk about workers getting drunk in the evenings. (It seems like everybody in this town drinks.)

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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Joe is an intense, often brutal indie drama starring Nicolas Cage , directed by David Gordon Green , and based on a novel by Larry Brown. Violent content includes fighting, guns, and blood, as well as very upsetting scenes of a father threatening and beating his 15-year-old son and bloody violence involving dogs. Some scenes take place inside a whorehouse, and a couple of scenes involve strong sexual imagery, as well as plenty of sex talk. Language is strong, with regular uses of "f--k" and "s--t." The main character is a regular drinker; he gets drunk and gives beer to the 15-year-old boy. The boy's father is a raging alcoholic, capable of terrible violence when drunk. The main character also regularly smokes cigarettes and is shown to be highly addicted. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (1)
  • Kids say (6)

Based on 1 parent review

Brutal, realistic, with an actually very good Cage

What's the story.

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 workers, and though the work is difficult, they all respect him. Everyone in town knows Joe, 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. Unfortunately, Gary's cruel, drunk father starts causing trouble, and Joe finds himself looking after Gary. But an old enemy of Joe's has come looking for vengeance, and Joe must keep himself from resorting to violence.

Is It Any Good?

Young Sheridan (also in The Tree of Life and Mud ) gives a strong performance in an emotionally difficult role. But it's Cage who, after two decades' worth of rather terrible movies, proves once again that he's a real actor, capable of pushing himself to dangerous lengths. Gary Poulter, who shows genuine menace as Gary's nasty father, was a local homeless man who had never acted and died after the film wrapped.

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's 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. No matter how lowdown they may appear, Green seems to understand their humanity.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Joe 's violence . What impact does it have? What does it tell you about the characters? How does it compare to what you might see in a horror movie? Which is more upsetting, and why?

Why do you think these characters drink and smoke so much? What are the consequences? Do they seem realistic?

How do you feel about Gary's relationship with his abusive father? How did the other members of his family relate to him? Do you think there are any ways the situation could be improved?

How do you feel about Joe? Can he be forgiven his bad side in favor of all the good he does? Is he a role model for Gary?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : April 11, 2014
  • On DVD or streaming : June 17, 2014
  • Cast : Nicolas Cage , Tye Sheridan , Ronnie Gene Blevins
  • Director : David Gordon Green
  • Studios : Roadside Attractions , Lionsgate
  • Genre : Drama
  • Run time : 118 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content
  • Last updated : October 12, 2023

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IMAGES

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  3. Joe DVD Release Date June 17, 2014

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  6. Joe (2013) Review

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VIDEO

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