Friday, November 2, 2012

Killer Joe [film review]

Released theatrically in North America in July and August; available on DVD and Blu-ray in North America on December 21st

I can't imagine a corporation being more horrified at their product appearing in a movie than KFC must have been when a bucket of their chicken appeared in a scene from Killer Joe, considering what happens with a drumstick from that bucket. Feminists probably won't be too enamoured with this movie, either. Killer Joe was adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Letts from his own 1993 play of the same name, with William Friedkin (best known for The French Connection and The Exorcist) directing the crime drama. 

The premise: Chris (played by Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who owes money to his boss, so he decides to kill his mother for her insurance money. Backed in his cockamamie plan by dim-witted father Ansel (played by Thomas Haden Church), skanky stepmother Sharla (played by Gina Gershon), and spaced-out sister Dottie (played by Juno Temple), Chris hires the services of Killer Joe Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey), a local detective who moonlights as a contract killer. Chris is one of those movie characters with "hard-luck loser" written on him almost immediately, so it's hardly a surprise when things don't go quite as planned.

Killer Joe is an exceptionally lurid piece of work that shows its colours early - in the opening scene, Sharla answers her trailer home door to her stepson and is naked from the waist down. All five main characters in this film are highly damaged individuals who no one in their right mind would want to spend any amount of time with in real life, with all but Killer Joe representing the trashiest of white trash. Only Dottie's virgin/whore character inspires any measure of sympathy, as her actions seem to be the result of simply not knowing any better. The bleak material of Killer Joe is quite well-acted by its cast; I was especially surprised at how engaged I became with McConaughey's and Hirsch's performances, since they're two actors I've never much cared for in the past. With the film being set in Texas, McConaughey's soft-spoken drawl feels right at home and his character commands the screen whenever he appears - this is clearly not a man to be screwed with. And yes, ladies, McConaughey doffs his shirt again in this movie...even more than that, in fact (certainly, he's looking a lot healthier here than he has recently after dropping a ton of weight for his latest film project). McConaughey may have the juiciest role, but Church has some of the best lines and the funniest scene, which involves a wardrobe malfunction (it's so good that I'm literally laughing out loud as I remember it now, even a few weeks after seeing this film). Gershon acquits herself well with some of the difficult material she has to tackle, notably that aforementioned scene involving the chicken, which I won't spoil the details of. That extremely uncomfortable-to-watch scene earned Killer Joe a dreaded NC-17 rating in the U.S. (18A in Canada), significantly limiting how many screens it could play on. The rating and the film's generally unsavoury tone probably explain why it came and went from theatres so quickly and quietly this past summer, earning less than $4 million worldwide at the box office.

The not-for-everyone Killer Joe is far from a unique film-watching experience with its liberal usage of Tarantino-esque archetypes, but the impressive performances make it well worth a viewing. A strong stomach might benefit you, too.  

Rating: B-


  1. Awesome movie. I saw it a TIFF over a year ago and remember laughing out loud several times. Thomas Hayden Church was great and the wardrobe malfunction provided a nice balance to the more uncomfortable scenes. It's too bad this film didn't do better at the box office despite the killer reviews. Just goes to show that most audiences are willing to watch crap over quality these days.

    1. I meant to mention in the review how curious I've been to see this movie for the past year, based on your mention of the chicken scene, but I forgot. And no surprise it didn't do well...I mean, look at how a great film like Cloud Atlas completely tanked.

    2. I totally agree with your review, and yet I stand by my rating of a "D". Performances were terrific, but I didn't care for the film. I'm going to check out some of your other reviews.



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