Saturday, August 25

Killer Joe Review

Killer Joe
Dir: William Friedkin
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch,
Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church,
and Gina Gershon

The still infamous NC-17 rating, which typically spells doom for compelling films needing to cut material to gain a more audience friendly rating, embodies a subject material everyday filmgoers might find offensive. Though, great films have been made while maintaining the stamp of NC-17, Steve McQueen’s Shame being a recent example. For most of these films the reality of having the caliber of actors found in Killer Joe, adapted from the stage play written by Pulitzer winning author Tracie Letts, would be a dream come true, still more actors are taking the plunge by committing to these precarious roles. Killer Joe is a twisted fairy tale, shrouded in dark comedy, which walks the fine line between gratuitous and purposeful filmmaking. 

The dysfunctional Smith family is the target of the film. Chris (Emile Hirsch), a loser in the most pertinent of terms, owes a hefty sum of money for lost contraband to the local drug boss. Chris’ mother, who stole the drugs, apparently has a life insurance policy with payout enough to absolve the debt. Chris decides to partner up with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), a dimwitted man who is under the controlling thumb of his new wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), all while dragging his younger, policy beneficiary, sister Dottie (Juno Temple) into the mix.

Chris employs the services of detective by day, cold-blooded killer for hire by night, Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to help with the messy plan. Joe, dressed in black from head to toe, operates like a rattlesnake ready to strike; he methodically intimidates anyone who crosses him. Chris, never thinking beyond the first step, doesn’t know how to pay for Joe’s upfront service fee; Joe infers a retainer in the form of Dottie, to which Chris and Ansel impetuously approve.

William Friedkin, who brought Lett’s suffocating head-trip Bug to life, directs Killer Joe with a heavy emphasis on humor and character development. Friedkin possesses the talent to steer the actors in the proper direction, which allows them to invoke humor during the most depraved situations. Though there are times when the exploitation of violence and sex are ramped high there are also times when Friedkin shows steadiness by rallying the themes back in, it’s a very fine line.

 McConaughey is magnetizing in the most disturbing ways, shedding the stigma of the romantic leads of his past. The entire film is a slow boiling culmination of his characters true identity, which is both vile and disgusting. Joe Cooper is the definition of villain and McConaughey offers the best performances of his career with him. Juno Temple is slightly miscast as Dottie, though she brings a naïve sensibility to her character and portrays the ideal that one person’s heaven could actually be another’s hell. Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church display surprising comedic timing, a skill that if handled differently would alter the film completely. Gina Gershon perhaps commits most wholeheartedly to the demeaning role of Sharla, specifically in a disturbing scene of sexual abuse at the hands of Joe Cooper.

The film is rated justifiable so, it is both disturbing and uncomfortable to watch at times, however, it is also scathingly humorous and well acted. Killer Joe might lose grasp of the reins at times, manipulated by the themes of sex and violence; however, I don’t believe the film was suppose to be guided by any form of control, it’s a beast of its’ own delight.

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out 5.00

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