Drug dealer Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) has a big problem: His mother stole some cocaine from him and he owes his drug supplier, Digger Soames (Marc Macauley) $6,000 he doesn’t have. Digger will kill him if he doesn’t pay. He comes up with a plan to kill his mother and collect her $50,000 life insurance policy that will go to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Not wanting to take a chance on getting caught, Chris contacts Dallas police detective Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who moonlights as a contract killer. Chris and his dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) meet with Joe where Joe lays out the ground rules and his fee of $25,000 payable in advance. When Chris tells Joe he won’t have the cash until the insurance money is paid, Joe agrees to accept Dottie as a retainer as he has become smitten with Chris’ childlike sister. Both Dottie and Chris’ step-mother Sharla (Gina Gershon) know of the plot and Joe moves in with the dysfunctional family in their mobile home until the deal is done and he gets his money.
“Killer Joe” is about the most bizarre movie I have ever seen. It is also rather brilliant in shining a light on some of the dumbest, crudest and most evil people ever to appear on a movie screen. Academy Award winning director William Friedkin has managed to coax his actors to lower themselves into a cesspool of human sludge and from that deliver performances that both enlighten and disgust. It is a vulgar and violent piece of perfection.
While the entire cast is fantastic, the shining star of them all is Matthew McConaughey. His performance as Joe is so controlled, so masterful it’s frightening. McConaughey is able to exude an aura of danger in the most mundane conversations. If someone doesn’t follow his rules, the level of threat gets raised but only just. It may be his choice of words or the intensity of his stare, but you know this man means business. Joe is also able to explode in vicious attacks that seem to spring from a well of rage buried deep in his soul. Dottie, in her simplicity, is the only one who can see how dangerous Joe is as she comments how his “eyes hurt.” She sees how damaged he is even if she doesn’t completely understand it.
Juno Temple plays Dottie. She is a sweet and innocent-looking young woman who may have suffered brain damage as a result of being nearly suffocated to death by her own mother when she was a very young child. Dottie is far more aware and open to the feelings and motives of people than her family gives her credit for and she’s the only truly decent character in the film. Dottie is an island of goodness in a sea of filth.
Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon each play the kind of people you’d never want to know or be related to (although each of us probably knows or is related to someone like this). They are stupid, crude, abusive and selfish characters that deserve nothing but pain and suffering. That is what their lives have been to that point but they see a glimmer of hope in the promise of a few thousand dollars from the insurance payment that requires the taking of a life. They have no problem with or second thoughts about that. I really hope these types of people are few and far between.
While the film is about grim and dangerous people doing grim and dangerous things, it is surprisingly funny. It’s a dark humor that comes from the characters stupidity or the juxtaposition of a pleasant conversation ended with the announcement of an imminent violent beating. The movie has to have some light moments otherwise the oppressive darkness of the subject matter would lead some audience members to end their existences right there in the theatre.
“Killer Joe” is rated NC-17 for graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality. There is full female nudity on at least two occasions and we see Gina Gershon bottomless within the first three minutes. We also see Matthew McConaughey nude in one scene. There two scenes of bloody violence in the film and the “brutality” is both bloody and rather disturbing as it involves a scene of simulated sexual humiliation. Foul language is common.
It’s a shame director William Friedkin couldn’t have trimmed a little of the more disturbing bits of “Killer Joe” and gotten an R rating so more people could see the film. While it certainly deserves the NC-17 rating in its current form it is also a terrific piece of film noir and black comedy. If you have a high tolerance for filth and violence I cannot recommend “Killer Joe” more highly.
“Killer Joe” gets five guitars out of five.
A wide range of movies are available to view this week. Vote for the next film I see and review.
The Cold Light of Day—A young American uncovers a conspiracy during his attempt to save his family, who were kidnapped while on vacation in Spain.
The Words—When a shallow wannabe-writer finds an old manuscript tucked away in a bag, he decides to pass the work off as his own.
Resident Evil: Retribution—Alice fights alongside a resistance movement in the continuing battle against the Umbrella Corporation and the undead.
Finding Nemo—Finding Nemo returns to the big screen for the first time ever in thrilling Disney Digital 3D.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews and film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.