Killer Joe

Directed By: William Friedkin

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church

The feared NC-17 rating is a label few studios and filmmakers willingly embrace.  These bold few often take sex and violence to new heights.  They defy the MPAA and do what they need to do to get their message across in an artistic way.  It's been nine months since an NC-17 film has graced even a handful of theaters around the country.  While Steve McQueen's Shame gave us a visceral portrayal of a sex addict last year, William Friedkin now gives us a sick depiction of a murderous bastard in Killer Joe.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is in deep with a bad man by the name of Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay).  He owes this loan shark six big ones.  To pay off his debt and stay alive, he's concocted a plan, but he needs some help from his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church).  He wants to have his mother (Ansel's ex-wife) killed so that he can collect the life insurance money and pay back Digger's money.  However, he's learned that his underage sister Dottie (Juno Temple) has been named the sole beneficiary of his mom's $50,000 policy. 

Chris has even found the right man for the job, a detective named Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey).  He's a professional.  Chris just needs his father to give him a share of Dottie’s money.  Ansel will agree to have his ex-wife murdered if they split the insurance four ways after paying "Killer Joe".  They also must include Ansel's current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) in this operation.  There's only one problem.  Joe wants his money up front in advance.  However, he's willing to entertain the possibility of a retainer for his services, namely Chris's sister Dottie.

Killer Joe is one darkly entertaining movie.  Director William Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts have crafted a dark comedy that will leave you thinking for hours afterward.  They create a grim yet comical world full of vicious brutality and some good old Southern hospitality.  They give us evil in a can of beans and in a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  They give us an ambiguous ending open to interpretation and debate.  In Killer Joe, Friedkin and Letts give us a uniquely engrossing film that I can't wait to see again.  I'm not rushing to grab any fried chicken from KFC anytime soon though.

As the titular character Killer Joe, Matthew McConaughey gives evil a new smile and some manners too.  He is delightfully devilish and sharply comical.  He makes Joe Cooper the brilliantly twisted villain he needs to be to carry this movie.  McConaughey gives a whole new connotation to the words "suck it" and will keep me away from any fried chicken place for quite some time.  His performance in Killer Joe demonstrates that he just keeps getting better with age.  It's been a long time since the days of films like A Time to Kill and Amistad.  He’s had some rough patches in his career and he has failed to launch on more than one occasion at the box office.  Nonetheless, this guy just keeps on putting out good movies these days.  In the last year or so alone, we've seen McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, and now Killer Joe.  McConaughey has really stepped up to the next level in this one.

The other cast members deliver enjoyable performances as well.  Emile Hirsch gives us a sufficiently bumbling idiot in his character Chris, and Juno Temple gives us an annoyingly carefree and somewhat unstable Dottie.  The two standouts however are Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon.  As Ansel, Church is consistently funny throughout the film.  He's just the guy who doesn't know a damn thing about anything.  As Sharla, there's more to Gina Gershon than meets the eye.  She's not just some rough-around-the-edges Texan who walks around her trailer naked. She spices the film up with her constant irreverence.

While I definitely enjoyed Killer Joe, there's one question that remains for me.  Why was the movie given an NC-17 rating?  I've seen movies that are much worse in my book with lesser ratings from the MPAA.  Go check out Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive for example.  Drive is far more graphic than Killer Joe.  Granted, there was no chicken involved in the former.  Killer Joe gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.