Killer Joe (2011) Directed by William Friedkin. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple. IMDB says: ”When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance.
Dark comedies can be rough. Comedy in general is the most subjective genre around but add in a cup of sex and violence and little more than a dash of disgust and the film can have a real issue finding an audience. It’s safe to say that Killer Joe and it’s NC-17 rating doesn’t give a fuck if you like it or not. The movie is a filthy masterpiece, an Oscar-worthy John Waters film (if something like that were to exist.) It’s a drumstick breaded with uncomfortable laughs, deep fried in unflinching violence, and drenched with phenomenal performances. And if by chance you’ve been searching for ways to drop that fried chicken habit, look no further than a viewing of Killer Joe.
The film’s story is straightforward enough, a guy needs money so he hires a hit man to kill his mother in order to collect on her life insurance policy. There are other details of who hires who and what’s at stake but it’s a lot more fun to have that explained by the film instead of it being spoiled in a review. I assure you though, the plot may be simple but the devil’s in the details. While not exactly full of plot twist and turns, the movie is bursting with unsuspecting moments. Part of the intrigue comes from the film making style. The scenes are set with unflinching wide shots, as well as close ups on particular items that draw the viewers attention away from the madness at perfectly planned times. The film’s events are also punctuated by the character’s actions. When the crazy starts to pile, it’s pretty hard to guess just what is next around the corner. The dichotomy between the mysterious Joe and the brainless family members is played for laughs mostly, but also gives way to the film’s most heinous scenes.
Along with interesting characters and confident film making, the movie’s biggest applause should be saved for it’s performances. I can single out every member of the cast and give them props. For me Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple are a perfect fit in their roles, turning in completely committed and surefooted performances. I also loved seeing Gina Gershon again, someone who hasn’t graced my viewing screens in a while, really knocking her role outta the park. But as you might have already put together, Matthew McConaughey is the star of this rodeo. His performance as the suave but malign title character is one for the books and is with out a shadow of a doubt one of his best performances ever put to film. As jarring as a lot of the film’s content is, you never once think “I can’t believe Matthew McConaughey is doing this!” He does such a good job in the film that he completely becomes the character.
It goes without saying that this movie won’t be for everyone or really for most. I overheard a lady leaving the theater saying it was “the worst movie I’ve seen in a very long time.” But if you are intrigued by the premise, the performances of the fact that WILLIAM FRIEDKIN directed this, try Killer Joe on for size.
Killer Joe is an intense movie. From scene one all the way to its unbelievable ending, the film is exaggerated, extreme, unashamed, and incredibly proud of it. The film is about a guy named Chris (Emile Hirsch). He owes a local mob guy six thousand dollars. The problem is neither he or his family have that money. So his plan is to murder his mother, whom he doesn’t like, and collect on the insurance policy money. In order to kill his mother, Chris enlists the help of contract killer Joe Cooper (an amazing Matthew McConaughey). But there’s another problem: Cooper wants his money up front. But once he meets Chris’s sister Dottie (a very quirky and attractive Juno Temple) he decides to use her as a retainer. And as you guessed it, nothing goes to plan and we watch as everyone involved slowly degrades. The film has a gritty look about it yet looks polished at the same time as we go from trailer homes to bars to pizza places to abandoned amusement parks and everything in between. The soundtrack is a Texas Two-Step that jumped on a distortion pedal combined with a dark acoustic guitar and harmonica serenade that at times elevate a scene to another level of dark tenseness.
Scenery and score aside, the real reason many will want to see this film is the performance that Matthew McConaughey gives. He does not disappoint. It’s a real tour de force performance as you watch McConaughey step out of his normal character type and really dig deep and dark to pull out one of the most stomach turning and disturbing characters I’ve seen in film for easily the last ten years. He brings such a coolness and calm to the character that you almost cannot believe what you are seeing. He owns every scene he’s in and even when he’s not on screen, you anticipate his return. As much as McConaughey carries this film, there are still very terrific performances from the other cast members. Thomas Haden Church (a dead-beat dad) and Gina Gershon (his new wife) have a great dynamic between them that set the uneasy tone early on in the film. Juno Temple excels as Dottie, a very quirky and interesting girl who does yet doesn’t comprehend the situation. It’s a character that changes from scene to scene and to be able to convey such a wide range of emotions in a short amount of time, and make it seem natural, is incredible and Temple does it with ease. Emile Hirsch almost has it easy. His character Chris slowly falls apart as his life around him does the same. Hirsch brings out real emotion with not only his speech but his eyes as well. The film is based on a play by Tracy Letts (who adapted it for this film) and I’m glad to see they had talented actors involved to portray these characters and their actions.
As much as I enjoyed this film, not everybody will. The film is incredibly violent and there is excessive nudity. How excessive you ask? Within the first five minute there is below the belt female nudity front and center. After that declaration, you know the film will be excessive. Because of that excess, many of the performances and line deliveries come across as highly exaggerated and over-acted. In my opinion, I think that was purposefully done to downplay the intensity of the violence, nudity, chicken usage, and violent dominance. There are a few scenes that are tough to sit through that were reminiscent of Compliance. If you are not a fan of this, don’t see the movie. If you’re okay with this, go see it in theatres with a large audience and prepare to be blown away; or disgusted.