Slapping a NC-17 rating on a film is usually the kiss of death at the box office. Veteran filmmaker William Friedkin’s (The French Connection, The Exorcist) latest crime drama, ‘Killer Joe’ takes the audience to some dark places. It’s cliché but important to warn you that this movie is not for everyone. There is frontal female nudity, profanity and graphic violence. However, as sick and twisted as it is; it is sinfully entertaining too. Friedkin knows how to keep the suspense going through the entire story. Not once did I have to look at my watch. It’s like indulging in a slice of red velvet cake. You know it’s bad for you but you cannot stop taking another big mouthful.
The story is about ne’er-do-well Chris (Emile Hirsch) who has an addiction to sports gambling and as a result, owes some bad guys $6,000. In order to pay off his gambling debt before they break his knee caps and bury him six-feet under, he comes up with this hairbrain plan to kill his mother for insurance money so he and his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) can collect on the policy. Chris hires Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother. Since Chris has no money to front him, Joe takes Chris’s sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer. It is reminiscent of a juicy Coen Brothers’ plot.
The title character is played so convincingly well by McConaughey. He’s terrific as a dirty police detective moonlighting as a hitman. It’s an intense performance and he probably would have received an Oscar nod if this film was not rated NC-17. The Academy Awards shies away from this MPAA rating like the plague. The rest of the cast is solid. Quite frankly, at first some of the casting choices seem odd but they do work well. In particular, Chris’s stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) is unforgettable. Gershon is an underrated actress. She puts out a brave performance in a not-so-likable role. Another standout is Juno Temple who perfectly plays a spaced-out cute and sexy “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.”
Friedkin is a cocky director and makes some bold camera choices with extreme close-ups and crooked camera angles. It sets the right tone for many of the scenes. Set in Texas, this film pokes fun at a typical trailer trash family. There are many memorable scenes that take place right in the trailer that chip away at American family values. There is a dinner-table scene that is downright haunting. The film is based on a play written by Tracy Letts who also penned the screenplay. He touches on family value themes from the 1990s era. Families wanted to change for the better but were kept down by poverty and a poor economy.
The fascinating thing about McConaughey’s performance is that even though he plays a psychotic killer, he still manages to be likable. There is a disturbing scene where he uses sexual intimidation to another level. He does it so effortlessly that you just accept it. In the hands of another actor, a scene of that magnitude would be downright creepy. Whether you walk away from ‘Killer Joe’ impressed or offended is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain; Friedkin will make sure you leave the theatre emotionally polarized.
‘Killer Joe’ is now available on Blu-ray and DVD http://killerjoethemovie.com/.