[Review] – Killer Joe

16 Aug

Title: Killer Joe
Year: 2012
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracy Letts, based on his own play
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church
MPAA Rating: NC-17, graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality
Runtime: 103 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 62

I never in my life would have thought I would say this about any year, but 2012 really is shaping up to be the year of Matthew McConaughey. I mean, he’s always been a seriously charming guy, and I liked him, but I didn’t really think he was a good actor. When you think of pre-2011 good roles of Matthew McConaughey you have roles that didn’t require him to act so much as they did for him to be himself and just be charming, like Dazed and Confused‘s David Wooderson or Ed Pekurny from Edtv. He got to coast by on charm and looks (and abs) alone.

Of course looks aren’t everything, and he’s starred in far more duds than successes, just take a look at The Wedding Planner, Surfer, Dude, Fool’s Gold or Failure to Launch for further proof. But then last year he kind of got super lucky because he got a role that was pretty much perfect for him, that of Mickey Haller in Brad Furman‘s adaptation of the Michael Connelly novel The Lincoln Lawyer. That movie was just entertaining as hell, and Mr. McConaughey gave what to me was, by far, the best performance of his career.

So, you know, I thought it was cool what we got from Mr. McConaughey there, but little did I know he was just getting started, and he would use 2012 to really get terrific roles that were perfect for him, in really great movies from really great directors surrounded by really great actors. This year first we got Bernie from Richard Linklater, who once again gave a great role to Mr. McConaughey that he really did great with. And then of course was Steven Soderbergh‘s Magic Mike, in which he got a role he was pretty much born to play and blew out of the water what he did last year, establishing a career-best by a clear mile. Now we have him in William Friedkin‘s Killer Joe, which I’ll talk about in a bit, and we’re yet to see him Lee DanielsThe Paperboy and Jeff NicholsMud. The guy’s hitting a stride, and has really figured out how to excel, and I’m damn happy with the results.

Now, enough about Matthew McConaughey because we’re here to talk about Killer Joe. But the fact is that the performance on display by Mr. McConaughey here, and by everyone involved, really, is just something to behold. This film is the very definition of lurid, it has an NC-17 rating and it wholly deserves it, and yet it’s really good because of these actors, because of how they manage to be funny and super violent at the same time in a film with this subject matter. And it has a lot to do, also, with that fact that it has a legendary director at the helm.

William Friedkin has been directing films for close to five decades now, and was of course responsible for two of the most seminal films of the 70’s in The Exorcist and The French Connection, the latter of which being the one that won him an Oscar. Only a director of that pedigree would have been able to pull of a film like this, so bizarre and so fascinating, one that takes you by the lapels and just never once even hints at letting you down easy. It’s truly quite an experience to have, and one that I seriously recommend, if you can stomach it.

Tracy Letts, the playwright responsible for August: Osage County (which is set to be a film starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts) adapts his own play here, and it’s just the blackest humor you’ll get all year. It stars Emile Hirsch, a fine young actor who I think should be a bigger name, as Chris a young man who’ll be killed off by dealers if he can’t pay off his debt to them. So he and his father come up with a plan, they would hire Detective “Killer” Joe Cooper, who doubles as a hit man for hire, to off Chris’ mom (and his dad’s first wife). That way they’d collect her life insurance, have enough money to pay off Chris’ debt and then some spare. Charming, right?

Here’s the thing, though, Joe doesn’t do this for free, and they won’t have the money to pay him until they get the insurance payment. So Chris’ sister, Dottie, is offered up as sexual collateral. Like I said, this film is just super bizarre. It has a tremendously stupid family at its center, and it’s somehow seriously funny and alarmingly shocking at the same time. I mean, the people in this story are just the lowest low of the moral totem pole; the Smith family for being desperate and stupid enough to crack up a plan like this, and then you have Killer Joe, who’s a seriously dark and evil individual.

I won’t detail all of the graphically shocking stuff that goes on here, just trust me when I say this is a very singular film experience that will have you laughing and then gasping in disgust. It’s seriously well shot by the great Caleb Deschanel (Zooey‘s father), it’s terrifically written by a fantastic playwright (and this really must be harrowing stuff to watch be performed on a stage), it’s masterfully directed by a guy who really knows his stuff, who knows how to balance it all, a film that’s laugh-out-loud-funny and unsettling and disturbing, few people could do that.

Then there’s the cast of this one, every actor involved, just like their director, is seriously swinging for the fences here, and every one of them is seriously pitch-perfect for their roles. Especially Mr. McConaughey, I started the review talking about him, and that’s how I’ll end it, too. Here’s a guy who started off as the handsome go-to-guy for rom-com’s, and now he’s somehow found a way to channel that huge amount of charm to be able to pull off some really dangerous and dark performances that a guy less likable probably wouldn’t be able to. Again, he’s found his success formula as far as which characters to pick, but he’s also really good at knowing who to pair up with to make that performance come out; kudos, sir.

Grade: A-


2 Responses to “[Review] – Killer Joe”


  1. 60 Second Movie Review: Killer Joe (2011) « polentical - August 22, 2012

    […] ~ Killer Joe Cut the Crap Movie Reviews: Killer Joe (2012) Artfully Bedraggled Film Reviews: [Review] – Killer Joe Chicago Cinema Circuit: Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011) Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first […]

  2. “Killer Joe”: Blood, violence, trailer-trash and… bush! « Radu presents: The Movie-Photo Blog - November 6, 2012

    […] So we’re down to pedophilia, aren’t we? Is this what rednecks actually do? So, what else does this movie give us? Violence? Yes, sir! Beatings? Yup! Yelling like all hell is about to break loose? You […]

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