Monday, August 6, 2012

Killer Joe


In Killer Joe, a white trash, trailer-bound family of rednecks cook up a plan to kill one of their own and cash in on the life insurance. It’s Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) who gets the bright idea to execute his own mother and spilt her $50,000 life insurance policy three ways. Equal to the spilt is his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), and the benefactor of the policy, Chris’ younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). After Ansel’s feverent demands that his current wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon) get an even split, Chris and his pops go about hiring notorious Killer Joe to do the deed.

Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a police detective who kills for money on the side. Pay him $25,000 up front and he’ll give you a dead body. Problem is, Chris and Ansel don’t have $10 bucks to their name, let alone 25 grand. So as a gesture of good faith, Dottie is used as a retainer until Killer Joe is awarded payment in full.

Now, you’ll have to forgive me if Killer Joe sounds pretty standard. I’m dumbing the plot down on purpose, because at the heart of this unique beast is a hysterically depraved, balls nuts thriller that will shock as much as it will provoke laughter. Everything done in the film is done with perfect cadence and matter of factness. The way the characters walk and talk and act (and, most importantly, react), fits seamlessly into the world director William Friedkin and his screenwriter, Tracy Letts, creates.
Let me start by addressing the film’s NC-17 rating. American readers know all too well the stigma that rating brings to movies. It’s typically reserved for films that contain graphic sex for the sake of containing graphic sex. But, if Shame proved anything, it’s that a superbly unique American story can be told under the artistic freedom of the NC-17 rating. In short, Killer Joe earns its rating, but it has a ball doing it.

McConaughey, who is on the roll of his career, embodies the quiet, calculating Joe with utter conviction and amusing remorselessness. He’s a man of principle, for better or worse. You may not always know where Joe is headed (or why), but if you give in to the film fully, you’re bound to enjoy being in his company. For very very different reasons, McConaughey is equally good here as he was in Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. The man simply can’t miss, and it is a blast to watch.

But, despite what the film’s marketing materials may indicate, the real stars of this movie are the Smith family. Hirsch plays a bumbling moron to perfection, while Gershon delivers a down to earth, sultry role in what has to be the best performance of her sorted career. Although Church and Temple, it must be said, are the real scene stealers here. Everything out of Church’s mouth is idiotic gold. He’s a guy who is well aware of how completely stupid he is, and Church hams it up to dutifully. Forget Sideways, this is the role of his career. Temple (best known as the molested girl in Atonement, and Anne Hathaway’s friend in The Dark Knight Rises) carries all of her scenes, fearlessly owning her innocent, wide-eyed Dottie without looking back. I’ve seen her act in movies before, but never like this. A star in the making.
Killer Joe is based on Letts’ play of the same name, and is the first film Friedkin has done since adapting Lett’s equally depraved play, Bug. The unusual pairing of these two talents was something I enjoyed wholeheartedly in Bug, but I was sadly one of the few. Their second outing is garnering far more positive attention, all of which is extremely justified.

Killer Joe is by far the most fun I’ve had at the movies so far this year, which is odd, given that so much fucked up shit happens in it. There’s no fun in spoiling the wickedness, but know that Killer Joe is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s depraved, certainly. But it damn well embraces it. And that, to me, is saying a whole hell of a lot. A-

34 comments:

  1. Great write-up, buddy!

    Definitely want to see this. Hopefully it comes to CT! Always good to support NC-17 movies in the theater.

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    1. Thanks Ty! And I agree, I think if the movie is good, it should be supported theatrically no matter its rating. And believe you me, this one is damn good.

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    2. Your welcome!

      Also just saw it is coming to our theater in New Haven this Friday! Will definitely go see it and report back.

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    3. Oohh nice, can't wait to hear what you think.

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    4. Just saw Killer Joe: It was excellent. Matthew McConaughey was at his absolute best. One of the best movies of 2012.

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    5. Awesome dude, really glad you dug it. Are you in the mood for some K Fried C right now?

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    6. Haha! Not at the moment! lol

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  2. Excellent as always. This is a film I want to see but I don't think it's playing anywhere nearby and right now, I'm sort of broke. I'll wait when it comes out on DVD or something. William Friedkin seems to be getting his mojo back.

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    1. Thanks man. Bug and Killer Joe would make an excellent DVD double feature. Don't eat during Killer Joe though. Trust me.

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    2. Oh, I heard about that. Then again, I never eat during the movie.

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  3. Fantastic review man! Glad to read that the cast is great. It looks like a blast. Can't wait to see this. And Bug is still on my watchlist, so I can't wait for that too.

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    1. Thanks! Bug pushes it really really far. And I mean that on a number of levels. Killer Joe only takes it further. Love them both.

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  4. I was completely gobsmacked by this films finale! The more I think about the film, the more I like it, though I didn't find it as uproariously hilarious at the time. I loved the way Matthew McConaughey played it - I didn't realise how truly messed up his character was until that final scene, and Temple was amazing too! Church was definitely the funniest :)
    Excellent review!

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    1. Thanks Ruth. And I couldn't agree more. I was like, "Nah, they won't-- oh, they did."

      Friedkin just took it to where it needed to go. Everyone embraced the nightmare, and it worked very well, I thought. Even if I wasn't a vegetarian, I don't think I'd be eating any K Fry C anytime soon.

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  5. Ugh, I dislike Matthew McConaughey and his acting. But I've heard some good reviews for this film thus far and may give it a chance.

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    1. Pre 2011 I liked McConaughey in A Time to Kill and Dazed and Confused. That's it. (He's okay in Tropic Thunder, but that's really just a parody of himself.)

      But he's taken off in these last two years. Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe... I think the dude made a very wise decision to take a few years off and regroup. He really has come into his own. Can't wait for Mud.

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  6. Oh yeah! Fucking loved this film. Had a ball. A giant bucket of greasy scum. McConaughey nails it - one of the best performances of the year - but Haden Church is always a hoot. It's brutal, and the finale is 'look if you dare' stuff, but this needs to be seen. Great write-up.

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    1. "A giant bucket of greasy scum." --- That's fuckin' brilliant! Glad you liked this as much as I did. So brutal and funny and honest. A ball indeed.

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  7. Great review! I actually want to see this even though it doesn't seem like something I would normally see. I am also happy more films are embracing the NC-17 rating.

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    1. Me too! NC-17 doesn't have to be reserved for trashy cinema. If used well, it can be quite enjoyable in its limitlessness. This isn't the kind of movie I thought I'd enjoy either. But man. Balls nuts.

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  8. I really want to see it, this love of McConaughey is overdue i think.

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    1. Yeah totally agree. He's fantastic in it.

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  9. I really want to see this one, and surprisingly, the alternative theater next to my home has it (sometimes they show movies like The Avengers and Total Recall and forget to put in indie movies in their weekly line-up and it's very annoying, but that's another thing). I truly believe this is going to be the performance of McConaughey's career.

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    1. Ugh, I HATE when the smaller theaters do that. But I suppose they have to make money somehow. I have a little two-screener in my city, and they sometimes carry a blockbuster when a great indie is struggling to find an audience. But you're right, that's another thing.

      McConaughey is very good here, but I'm not sure yet if it's the best performance of his career. He really isn't in it as much as you may think. Definitely a supporting role. We shall see!

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  10. Another terrific review! And "balls nuts thriller" is a great phrase. I'm just sayin'.

    At first glance this doesn't look like my kind of movie. But when I read the last paragraph, I became really intrigued. My family and I do enjoy dark humor. And there is something to be said for a movie that embraces its own fucked-up depravity. Oh and my husband TOTALLY wants to see this movie. The man who turned me on to Pulp Fiction. Imagine that. ;-)

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    1. Ha thanks! Let me just say, I am right there with you. I can completely understand how you could be turned off from this movie, but I gotta tell you, your husband has good taste. Killer Joe is different, messed up and kind of brilliant. Warped and hysterical.

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    2. Thanks. I'm sure I will see Killer Joe eventually. Though I've gotta say, if you saw my husband's movie collection you might retract your statement about him having good taste. He considers Land of the Lost a good comedy. ;-)

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    3. Haha ouch! Touche, my friend. Tou-che.

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  11. Woah now I REALLY can't wait to see this one. Sounds like my kinda of movie and I loved Juno Temple ever since Atonement and Mr. Nobody. So good to see McConaughey choosing quality projects finally, he was wasting himself in all of those idiotic comedies. Excellent review!

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    1. Thanks! Couldn't agree more about McConaughey finally stepping his game up. It's funny, I saw an interview with Friedkin and he said, "Matthew's always had it in him to act, but when you look as good as he does, why wouldn't you chose to make a lot of money by doing romantic comedies?"

      Silly rationalization, but Billy Friedkin is so amusing in his candidness.

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  12. This was a very tense and entertaining movie, even if a lot of it does seem to falter, mainly because it's a stage-adaptation. Still, the cast makes up for it all, especially McConaughey, who has never been slimier or more scary to watch in any other movie, ever. Great review Alex.

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    1. Glad you liked it, Dan. You know, I've heard some criticism from people that they thought the film failed because it was based off a play, but I really didn't get a sense of that at all. It felt staged, sure, but it definitely worked for me.

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  13. Whole family just watched it on HBO. Loved it! And we are from Texas.

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    1. Glad you loved it! I really enjoyed this crazy little flick.

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