Killer Joe * * * * 1/2

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Director: William Friedkin.
Screenplay: Tracy Letts.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Marc Macauley, Sean O’Hara.

The last time I visited a film directed by William Friedkin was his highly underrated psychological horror “Bug“. That also happened to be written by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Tracy Letts and this foray into the darker recesses of the human psyche is just as impressive and unrelenting as their earlier collaboration.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a young Texan lowlife that has found himself in considerable debt to local nasties. To get himself out of trouble, he decides to murder his mother and collect the insurance money. He runs it by his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and they decide to hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) an amoral police detective, who also happens to be a contract killer. As they don’t have the money to pay up front, Chris offers his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer until the insurance comes through but things of this nature don’t always go to plan and Chris, Ansel and Dottie realise they’re in way over their heads.

Upon our introduction to this films characters we have a stepmother who answers the door while wearing absolutely nothing from the waist down and the father spits on his own floor after coughing up a lung. Straight away its apparent that these people are completely dysfunctional and lack any moral fibre. From there, things get progressively worse but what you wouldn’t count on, is meeting anyone else actually more disturbed than these detestable people. That is, until McConaughey’s Joe Cooper enters the fray. He is far more depraved than the degenerates and reprobates that we have been introduced to, leaving you with an all round uncomfortable feeling of dread and questioning yourself as to why you’re even spending time with such disreputable company. That’s partly the hook of the film though. It becomes a bit of a guilty pleasure watching what will happen next when there are seemingly no rules or depths that the characters won’t stoop to. Friedkin and Letts deserve the utmost credit for their uncompromising approach here and in a film with no shortage of brave and bold performances, it’s McConaughey that truly excels. He’s a dark, brooding character and a far site from his recent rom-com’s. If he really wants to change his image then this is the way to do it. This man can certainly act and after this, I’m not sure he could go back to rom-com’s even if he wanted to. This is a character that will stick in the minds of many for quite some time. Kudos to the bravery of Gina Gershon also though. She commits herself to one of the most disturbing and outrageous scenes you’re likely to see this year, or any year for that matter. I’m sure by now that many people have at least heard of the depravity of an almost surreal scene involving a (now infamous) chicken drumstick… I didn’t know whether to laugh or balk when it arrived and it left me wondering if the sales of KFC will suffer as a result of this. Poor old Colonel Sanders will be rolling in his grave as it brings a whole new meaning to their slogan “finger licking good“. This is a scene that seems to have overshadowed the word on the film itself which is not entirely unfair as the scene is most certainly shocking but there’s far more to this. Apart from the excellent performances, Friedkin’s direction is up close and personal and captures the claustrophobic nature of Letts’ writing and his blacker than black humour. It’s a lot like “Bug” whereby a lot of the drama comes from the close proximity of the characters. The tension is only heightened because of this and it challenges the viewer to even question their moral standpoint on why would you even find enjoyment in this seedy and lascivious world.

An extremely black, depraved and uncompromising piece of work but it’s also strangely captivating and possesses a humour that’s “darker’n a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night” – as a wiser feller than myself once rambled.

Mark Walker

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59 Responses to “Killer Joe * * * * 1/2”

  1. Maybe I should have checked this out when it was here. Unfortunately it only had a two week stay in this area and I skipped it due to my uncertainty. Great review brother! Good stuff!

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    • Thanks bro! This didn’t get a wide release here either and in a lot of ways I can see why. Deeply, deeply dark stuff and brave on everyone’s account. It won’t appeal to everyone but it has to be seen to be believed.

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  2. It is somethin’, is it not? A stunner. Bizarrely entertaining and funny, KILLER JOE is as you quoted:

    “darker’n a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night”

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  3. Sure looks like a dark but engrossing film to watch.

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  4. This is another one I’ve been wanting to see. Still waiting for it to show up here! It’s nice to see that Friedkin hasn’t lost that old spark.

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  5. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. The best thing I’ve seen Matthew McConaughey in was Eastbound & Down 🙂

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  6. ray brayne Says:

    Sam Shepard wrote a trilogy of plays in the 70’s about troubled modern western families. The Coen brothers continued with “Blood simple” and others. “Killer Joe” is a post-modern effort to continue this tradition. It fails. It got a well deserved NC-17 and short shift at theaters for good reason. Roman style bloodsport. Close-ups of women’s faces being battered call for special condemnation! The meanings and symbolism of it all escape me. Giving a KFC drumstick a blow-job, what’s that about? If its saying society’s taste in art and cinema has fallen to this crap, well that I can except. It’s a long, long way from “Buried Child” and “True West”!

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    • I haven’t seen “Buried Child” and “True West” Ray but you make a good point on Shepard’s and the Coen’s work. I didn’t think this film failed though. I took it to be a commentary on greed and the consumerist society we live in. KFC is part of this consumerism. I can also see your dislike for the treatment of women in this. On that front, I agree but it’s also a commentary on how women are systematically scapegoated amongst the the small mindedness of men. It’s interesting that Joe is also a police officer. It doesn’t show that much about this side to him but the corruption of his character also hints at the failure of society as a whole. This is a film that will certainly split audiences but there’s no denying the impact it has. Love or loathe it.

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      • ray brayne Says:

        Buried child and True West are Pulitzer plays that never made it to the big screen. Maybe it needed to be more violent like Killer Joe. A lot of plays trend that way, more sex more violence in an effort to hit Hollywood. Better story and dialogue would do the same thing but then it isn’t as real and raw. Very disturbing pathology!

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      • Disturbing pathology indeed man. I also took it to be quite farcical and it’s had the blackest humour I’ve seen since probably Todd Solondz’s “Happiness”. It’s a film that will be hard pushed to be beaten in the controversial stakes this year. That’s for sure. It’s a real audience splitter this one. I mist look into “Buried Child” and “True West” though. Cheers Ray!

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  7. Where did you see this?? Great work as always!

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  8. Definitely one I want to see but I have *not* heard of this chicken scene and now I’m scared…

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  9. Trying to find this one, it hasn’t been in any theaters around the seattle area since it came out. I’m glad to hear you liked it though, I’ll do my best to track it down finally

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    • It’s not for everyone Andy but I really liked it. Dark yet “deliciously” entertaining if you’ll excuse my choice of word there. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. 😉

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  10. “Black and depraved” movies are really hit or miss for me. 🙂 I am doubtful whether this is my cup of tea (especially since everyone is saying this movie put them off chicken :-D). However, I am intrigued. Great review!

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  11. Good review Mark. It’s a pretty messed-up movie but is bolstered up because of the great performances from everybody involved. I highly doubt Matthew will get a nomination for this, but if he does, he sure as hell deserves it.

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  12. Aw man I loved this film when I saw it earlier in the year. Even though McConsnanananghdshdhy does take his top off!! He puts in a terrific turn in the Dark role of Joe!!

    Great write up matey

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  13. Good write-up, brother. This flick kinda blew my mind a little when I saw it, so much that it was a few days later before all the layers started making sense. I didn’t know it was out on disc already though. Might need to pick up a copy

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  14. I’ll never eat chicken again.

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  15. Great review. Really want to check this one out. Sounds absolutley crazy but I’m thinking I might like it a lot. LOL at the KFC thing! haha

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  16. Watched this on the train and you can imagine I had to turn the screen away towards the screen a couple of times. The performances were good. Although I’ve seen this described as a very dark comedy, I didn’t feel it was. Ended up giving it a 7/10, but not a movie I’d really recommend to others.

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    • I can completely understand your feelings on it man. Personally I did see some very dark humour in it. Almost so dark, it could be overlooked. Admittedly, it wasn’t until after the film had finished that I realised that. Like you say though, it’s a hard film to recommend to people. I’m sure it’ll have as many critics as it will plaudits.

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  17. I will have a drumstick experience with you oh marked one! When will you be brave enough to meet me in person, lets make a movie together!

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  18. Great review! I”m glad you liked the movie, I loved it, it’s my number 2 of the year, right after TDKR. McConaughey was amazing here, I hope he continues to appear in projects like this one.

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    • Thanks you miss! I absolutely loved this film and I think we’ll all be hard pushed to find a more controversial piece of work this year. Fabulous on all accounts and yes! McConaughey was absolutely superb here. I always knew he’d deliver the goods. (not quite in such a fashion though lol)

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  19. Missed this at the cinema but I’ve heard really good things about it. If nothing else, I’m intrigued to see McConaughey in a decent role. This chicken thing sounds weird too!

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  20. Muckers – I just watched this…

    IT BLEW MY FUCKING MIND!!!!

    A+++++

    Like

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