Killer Joe – Review

Film: Killer Joe (2012)

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon

Directed by: William Friedkin

Produced by: Nicholas Chartier, Scott Einbinder

Written by: Tracy Letts

Music by: Tyler Bates

Running Time: 102 minutes

Rating: NC-17

Finally, I can break out of my work-induced hiatus and get back to writing. A short time ago, I saw Killer Joe, an incredibly violent but darkly funny film based on the play by Tracy Letts, and directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist). The film was so twisted that it was slapped with the dubious NC-17 rating.

I read about the premise of the film and was interested, but we ultimately lured me to the theater was a chance to attend a Q&A with Friedkin himself right after the film’s conclusion. This was one of the first examples of my new life in L.A. paying dividends toward my interest in film.

Anyway, before we get into that, let’s talk about the film itself. And yes, this plot is absurd. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer in Texas who falls into a huge amount of debt and is thus left scrambling for money. He concocts an idea to hire someone to kill his mother — supposedly an awful person, which isn’t hard to believe given the nature of the rest of the family — so that he can collect the insurance payout. He tells this idea to his father (his mother’s ex-husband), who reluctantly agrees. The alleged beneficiary of the insurance payout is actually Chris’s sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), but Chris figures they can all split it, which will still leave him with enough to get out of debt.

Chris hires the film’s namesake, “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey in one of his better performances), to perform the service. Joe is a contract killer who also happens to be a police detective, so he’s a fairly corrupted individual to say the least. Joe demands an upfront fee for his services that Chris and his father cannot provide. Just when Joe is about to call off the deal, he notices Dottie, and decides to keep her as a retainer until they obtain the money following the murder.

Of course, this movie wouldn’t be any good unless the s**t really hit the fan, which it does to a pretty high degree. Between family lies, greed, misunderstandings, slimy characters, and a psychotic contract murderer, Killer Joe builds up to an unfathomable bloodbath of a conclusion that is nevertheless bleakly funny in an incredibly strange way. Are there any likeable characters in this movie? Maybe Dottie, but even that’s a stretch. That’s why by the end of the film, you don’t even know what you want to happen. While it can be hard to get into a movie if you don’t have anyone to root for, this unconventionality actually works for Killer Joe, as the audience can allow itself to be absorbed by the pure absurdity of the story and simply enjoy watch things unfold in a mostly unpredictable way.

McConaughey naturally owns this film, with twisted performance that is both funny and somewhat scary. In the film’s early stages, one would see him as the most detestable character, but as it progresses, the viewer will begin to realize that — frighteningly — he might not be the most odious character after all. But still odious. Just to be clear.

Emile Hirsch, a solid and underrated actor in his own right, delivers a fine performance as a pathetic, pitiful person (alliteration intended) who resorts to the most immoral measures to try to keep his life on track. The great character actor Thomas Haden Church provides much of the film’s humor through his offbeat, slightly aloof character, and Gina Gershon rounds things out as Chris’s increasingly loathsome stepmother.

Getting back to Friedkin, the long-time director shows he still has something left, delivering a weird but nevertheless captivating film. In his Q&A — where I unfortunately was not able to ask a question due to high demand and time constraints — Friedkin talked about the film’s tone and its NC-17 rating. He said that when the film got that rating, he knew he’d have to go forward with it because to cut out any of its material after that would have fundamentally altered some of the film’s most important aspects. He also was funny in eschewing blame for the film’s graphic material, saying, “Just remember — I didn’t write this s**t!.” One of the other things he talked about that I thought was interesting was about how there is no redemption for any of the characters in this film. This structure worked because of how despicable most of the characters were. We knew things would end badly, but we just didn’t know exactly how, and that’s when Friedkin and Letts delivered an unforgettable ending.

That being said, Killer Joe is not about to go down as one of my favorite films, but for a movie that’s surely going to continue to be overlooked, it is a very unique experience with fine performances from a very solid cast. If you think you can stomach grotesque and (intentionally) over-the-top violence and bloodshed, then give Killer Joe a try.

Tommy D’s Score:





3/4 Tommy Ds

About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on September 2, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Really want to see this one, I’m a big fan of Friedkin’s work – I’m amazed that man is still working as hard as he is

  2. The film does sort of fall-asleep at times with all of it’s talking, but is still a very tense flick, mainly because of its well-acted ensemble. Especially McConaughey, who seems to be having an awesome year so far being himself, except with a darker side to him than we’re used to seeing. Good review Tommy.

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