Never before have a weaponized can of pumpkin pie filling and a sexualized leg of KFC dark meat been used to such hilariously cringe-worthy NC-17 effect as in Killer Joe, the latest collaboration between Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin and playwright Tracy Letts. Come to think of it though, recalling his little pea soup trick in The Exorcist, Friedkin has a knack for turning everyday food items into the most vile and disgusting stuff you’ll never want to see, touch, or taste again.
Friedkin and Letts last collaborated on the underrated little claustrophobic thriller called Bug back in 2006, and like in that film, the pair’s Killer Joe has a slight bit of trouble escaping the confines of its theatrical roots, but ultimately finds a way to use its minimalist aesthetics to its advantage. Friedkin and Letts have concocted a garish, provocative little black comedy that puts a modern-day, twisted spin on a classic fairy-tale. Friedkin is one of the most decorated hardly-working filmmakers in the biz today, having only put out a dozen or so pedestrian films since his The Exorcist turned Hollywood’s head nearly forty years ago, but now his mojo is back.
Killer Joe revolves around a sick moneymaking scheme that would seem all too outlandish were it not something we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about in the news on a daily basis. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a 22-year-old trailer park urchin who concocts a plan to have his mother murdered for her $50,000 insurance policy by enlisting the help of a hired killer known as Joe Cooper (Matthew MacConoughey), who also happens to be on the Dallas police force working as a homicide detective.
Chris’s clan and co-conspirators consist of his drunken dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) who has since divorced the object of the contract, his slutty step-mom Sharla (Gina Gershon) who is as comfortable out of clothes as in, and his fragile younger china doll of a sister named Dottie (Juno Temple) who becomes the lynchpin of the entire movie. Since Chris doesn’t have the $25,000 necessary to facilitate the contract with Joe, Chris puts up his young teen-aged sister as a sort of downpayment for the job. Joe and his hostage begin to develop an unusual bond that takes on a kind of prince and his Cinderella relationship.
It probably goes without saying that the plan comes completely apart since we’re not dealing with the brightest minds in the world. This unraveling descent into madness that grinds to a climactic screeching halt over a bucket of greasy fried chicken becomes the film’s highlight however, as there always seems to be plenty of laughs and enjoyment to be mined from the stupidity of others.
Plus, the dialogue-rich scenes that come from the pen of Letts, create a fertile environment for some amazing performances… and no one disappoints. McConaughey is perfect in a role that continues a hot-streak that goes back a few years to his turn in The Lincoln Lawyer. The guy is all money right now, and here he manages to find his character’s enigmatic moral duality as a charming, soft-spoken, and eloquent gentleman on the one hand, but a stone-cold, calculating killer with some alarming sexual proclivities on the other. Church plays his typical bumbling idiot that he does so well, and Juno Temple is absolutely spectacular as the childish, yet wise-beyond-her-years Dottie.
But the big star of the show - and its heart and soul really - is the hand of Friedkin that manages to get the story’s darkly sardonic tone just right, a skill that so often trips up less-experienced directors. The 76-year-old filmmaker infuses the proceedings with a fresh, young Tarantino-esque vibe that makes us laugh while covering our faces in shocked horror. There’s a lot of nasty stuff going on in Killer Joe (some of it almost unbearable to watch) but we’re also afraid to turn our heads to the unflinching truths of the tragic social commentary.
Killer Joe is a tale of white-trash immorality, of these morally dubious characters, yet Friedkin manages to make us recognize that there is still some kind of integrity back in the corner of their souls. In other words, we still like the characters despite their blasphemous behavior. The movie hits an original strike zone in which the sex and violence are ridiculously over the top, yet we find delight, laughter and enjoyment from our comfortable distance.
Friedkin notes that there’s a thin line between good and evil and there is the possibility of evil in all of us. But if evil is this deadly funny, go ahead and kill me now.
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.
Runtime: 103 mins.
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracy Letts
Cast: Matthew MacConaughey; Emile Hirsch; Thomas Hayden Church; Juno Temple; Gina Gershon
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Tagline: A totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story.
Memorable Movie Quote: "You ever hear of Joe Copper? He's a cop. A detective actually. He's got a little business on the side. "
Distributor: LD Entertainment
Official Site: www.killerjoethemovie.com
Release Date: July 27, 2012 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: December 21, 2012
Synopsis: When 22 year old drug dealer Chris (Hirsch) has his stash stolen by his mother, he has to come up with six thousand dollars quick or he's dead. Desperate, he turns to "Killer Joe" (McConaughey) when he finds out that his mother's life insurance policy is worth $50,000. Although Joe usually demands cash up front, he finds himself willing to bend the rules in exchange for Chris' attractive younger sister, Dottie (Temple), who will serve as sexual collateral until the money comes in... if it ever does.
Available on Blu-ray - December 21, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: Locked to region A
Killer Joe cost a measly $10 million to make and, seeing as how most of the film takes place in a trailer, you really should lower whatever grandiose expectations you might have if you’ve heard that the movie is excellent (which it is). The 1080p AVC-encode might have a soft sheen to it – complete with a few bright whites – but, overall, there’s a nicely detailed transfer inside the snapcase. Rural Texas comes alive with crisp film noir black levels that are never inky and some nice cinematic touches from Friedkin and his cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel. Skin tones are warm and individual hair follicles (you’ll understand within the first few minutes of the film) are nicely textured. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix doesn’t really get the opportunity to kick your speakers seeing as how Killer Joe is based on a dialogue-heavy play. But, it does manage to provide some nice immersive qualities from time to time. Overall, this is a solid looking release, with a few dips in quality, from Lionsgate.
- Incredible. Absolutely incredible. The commentary from Director William Friedkin gives listeners a great wealth of technical information about the filming of the movie and about Friedkin’s creative relationship with playwrite Tracy Letts.
If you’ve purchased the blu-ray of Killer Joe, then you can relax because you’ve got the correct edition. The unrated content is shocking and in-your-face and absolutely belongs in this marvelous piece of American film noir. This is the version to see. Things get started, on the supplemental side of things, with a 26-minute discussion with playwrite Tracy Letts as he discusses his material and Friedkin discusses what inspires him about Letts’ many claustrophobic themes. Also included is a nearly 40-minute cast discussion from SXSW. Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch and Tracy Letts all appear and Harry Knowles moderates. Also included is a SXSW intro hosted by Friedkin and a red band trailer for the film.
- Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen (26 min)
- SXSW Q&A with Cast (39 min)
- SXSW Intro by William Friedkin (4 min)
- Red Band Trailer