When I went to see Killer Joe, I hadn’t been so pumped to see a movie since The Dark Knight. Maybe it was because it got excellent reviews and had a great cast. Maybe it was because it was the first time I headed into the city to see a film in limited release. Maybe it was because it was the first NC-17 rated movie I’d be seeing in theaters. Maybe it was all of the above.
I thoroughly enjoyed Killer Joe, so much so that I can’t remember the last time I was so satisfied with a film. One of the best things about it was the performances of its stellar cast, including the title character. It would be a crime for Matthew McConaughey not to get nominated for an Oscar, or at least a Golden Globe (which he’s more likely to get). He really impressed me, even after seeing him in serious roles, such as The Lincoln Lawyer and A Time to Kill. Sure, he does a lot of shitty romcoms, but when he’s in a good movie, damn is he good. He pulled off playing a manipulative, sadistic villain so well that I almost found myself rooting for him, especially since compared to the screwed up family, he didn’t seem all that bad. But I’ve already said too much. And trust me, as I’ve heard others say, the less you know about this film going in, the better, which is why I’ll keep the plot summary as simple as possible.
Emile Hirsh plays Chris, a Texan drug dealer who finds himself in considerable debt. He consults his father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) about hiring detective-slash-contract-killer-on-the-side Joe Cooper to kill Chris’ deadbeat mother in order to obtain a $50,000 insurance policy, which will go to Chris’ younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Because Chris can’t afford to pay Joe’s mandatory $25,000 up front fee, Joe allows his rule to slide in exchange for keeping Dottie on “retainer” until he can get his money. The always sexy (even when she’s playing white trash) Gina Gershon rounds out the cast as Sharla, Ansel’s second wife and Chris and Dottie’s stepmother.
I seek out different, shocking films, and boy, did this one deliver. The violence is nothing that hasn’t been seen in many R-rated movies. In fact, it was even less violent than some of them. What makes it so disturbing in this film is how real the violence is. It’s one thing to be accustomed to over-the-top violence in movies such as Sin City or the Kill Bill films. It’s another thing to be shocked by brutally realistic violence. Director William Friedkin, of The Exorcist fame, really takes you into the gritty reality of southern life for some people. It was actually filmed in New Orleans, but you’d never know that because Friedkin paints such a convincing depiction of redneck Texas.
What really makes this film earn its NC-17 rating is the overtly sexual nature and overall tone. The filmmakers tried to appeal the rating, but when they were rejected by the MPAA, they decided to release the film uncut. I respect them for that because it shows that they didn’t care about the movie being able to make more money. They value art over profit, and the movie benefits from their decision. The same shock value wouldn’t be there if they had toned it down to an R.
This film had me laughing in obviously funny places, and in some other places where I almost questioned why I was laughing. Almost. Some of the wicked plot twists and bold, daring turns will leave your jaw hanging open. It’s like no other film you’ve ever seen, and most likely will never see again.