Film Review: Killer Joe

August 6, 2012

Every once in a while a movie leaves a lasting impression. It may be hard to believe, but there is still originality in the film world. A trip to the cinema can really make you stop and think.

In the case of Killer Joe, my thoughts mostly returned to one simple statement:

“Holy shit, this is the darkest, funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time!”

When I walk out of a movie theater, there are just a handful of questions I need to ask myself to help determine how much I liked what I just saw. The questions are variations on a theme. How was the acting? How was the writing? Was it well directed? Would you see it again? All of my responses to Killer Joe were overwhelmingly positive.

The plot is really simple, and I’ll do my best to leave out any spoilers. A kid visits his father and stepmother in their decrepit trailer park home to make a proposition. He wants to hire someone to kill his birth mother, because he just found out her life insurance policy is worth fifty-thousand dollars. It also just-so-happens that the kid is in debt to some drug dealers so he could use the money. Hell, his father, the step-mother, and his younger sister could all use the money. The kid has heard of a local cop who moonlights as a killer-for-hire, and wants to acquire his services. Since the cop requires his fee to be paid upfront — and the kid and his family have no money at the moment — he takes the little sister as his “retainer” until he receives his fee. As it is won’t to do in such situations, all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, to quote an annoying catchphrase, “Hilarity ensues.”

Most of the press the film has received involves its gift of an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Rating Administration, and one particularly disturbing scene that involves a unique new use for a piece of fried chicken. Expecting to be horrified by brutal acts of violence and gore a la The Human Centipede, Martyrs, Inside, or any of those fucked-up torture-fests I enjoy from time to time, I was happy to discover that this is not the M.O. of the movie. In fact, that fried chicken scene that is cited in pretty much every review of Killer Joe I have read is remarkably tame. In fact, there were others besides myself who saw humor in what likely made some members of the audience uncomfortable.

What hasn’t been discussed so much is the brilliance of William Friedkin’s (“The Exorcist”, “The French Connection”) directing, the acidity/absurdity/brilliance of Tracy Letts’ writing (based on a play Letts wrote in the early ’90s), and the stellar casting. Friedkin’s lurid vision and leering, lingering shots make for some of the most unsettling sexual sequences I’ve seen since Irreversible. The dialog is sharp, witty, and at times downright hysterical. Almost every line dropped by Thomas Haden Church as Ansel (father) is comedic gold. His poor fucking Eeyore attitude is played with perfection.

Which brings me to the casting. Emile Hirsch (Chris, the kid who wants his mom dead) has definitely come a long way since…what was he in, Into The Wild? The Girl Next Door? Yeah, he’s come a long way since then. He owns his trailer trash stupid fuck-up character. And while he bemoans his situation and sneers and acts tough you never forget that the kid is a fucking moron. Church, I said before, is brilliant as a a deeply-southern borderline mental handicap. Juno Temple as sister Dottie is a bit of a space cadet, but she plays it well enough. She’s probably the weakest of the central characters, but that’s certainly not a complaint. Gina Gerson’s performance as stepmom/whore-about-town will make you forget all about that whole Showgirls thing.

And then there’s Matthew McConaughey as Killer Joe Cooper. Holy fuck. I don’t think NC-17 movies ever get nominated for Oscars…but he was unbelievably great in his role as the sadistic, creepy, murderous Joe. He plays it so calm, quiet and deadpan that those moments when the switch is flicked from cop to psycho are imperceptible. You’re dragged into his debauched, depraved world without warning, and the results are sometimes hard to watch. I mean…I had no problem watching it, smiling along and laughing at the action on screen…but I know a lot of people don’t share my warped sense of humor. It’s not billed as a comedy, but if you wanted to classify it as one it would be one of the blackest comedies in recent memories.

And then there’s the ending. Probably my only complaint about Killer Joe is the way it ends. I’m not going to describe it, but I’ll go on record as saying I didn’t like it. Maybe it came across as cool or unusual in a theater setting…but not on film.

As far as I know, Killer Joe is playing right now in Los Angeles only at the Landmark in Westwood and in Irvine at the Edwards University Town Center 6. It’s also playing at a bunch of theaters in New York…but I don’t know where else it is playing. If it happens to be in a theater near you, don’t miss it. The experience of watching Killer Joe on the big screen has been one of the highlights of my year. At least as far as movies are concerned. Because…what do I have to compare it to? Prometheus? Titanic 3-D? That vampire movie I took the 21-year-old to see just so I could wax her out afterwards? Yeah. Those all sucked. Killer Joe, guys. Killer Joe.

Brainbombs – Tired And Bloody [MP3]

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