There are movies that are made to entertain, some marketed to create a huge profit margin, some are made to make viewers feel good while some are made to express an ever-so possible harsh reality of life. Such is William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer award winning play “Killer Joe”. This film is extremely dark, chilling and unnerving piece of filmmaking. Be warned, this is not a film for the squeamish. If your idea of disturbing is “Saw”, then you may be better off staying away.
The film‘s set up is actually very simple. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a guy buried in gambling debts owed to a guy named Digger (Marc Macauley) so he came up with a plan that involves the collection of insurance money. Chris convinces his dead beat dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), and his second wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) to help him hatch up a plan as Chris had gotten information that the beneficiary is his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). The family agrees to contract a professional named Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who is also a police detective by day. But when, Joe insists on collateral and he chooses Dottie to be that guarantee, things become much, much more complicated.
I have said that some movies are meant to express a harsh possible reality in life, and “Killer Joe” is just the kind of film that hits a homerun in this regard. I know, the set up is pretty simple and one could surmise that the film is going to end badly, but what made the film work marvelously is the way that it is structured to reveal enough details about its characters as possible and yet, one becomes enthralled and invested to see just how exactly things would turn out.
The trick is when coming out with a film about a harsh possible reality, you have to be able to instill the right emotions, the proper timing to call its scenes. From the film’s introduction of Chris with a pitbull barking at him, that scene says a lot of his character as dogs just cannot trust him. Gina Gershon’s Sharla comes out swinging and it was easy to conclude just what kind of woman she was, despite her light concerns about Dottie, she was the kind of character with dimensions, and she may not be the pleasant kind. Dottie is one that you can see as someone caught in all this mess, she may be seen as the innocent, but really there is a certain level of darkness even to her. Ansel’s character is the kind of pushover and just tags along with decisions, he is one of the weak-willed kind and is just around for the ride.
The film also has a great approach in introducing Joe’s character. It is all about close ups, his leather gloves, boots, the police shield and the gun at his side, and the pitbull that often barks at Chris becomes like a scared puppy dog when Joe arrives. McConaughey is finally stepping out of his comfort zone, leaving behind his staple as a leading man in romantic comedies since his role in “The Lincoln Lawyer” as the actor embraces and becomes Joe Cooper. A man who is charming, intimidating and scary. The success of the film relies mostly on the performances, and thankfully, its cast was able to deliver. Gina Gershon earns major props for her portrayal of Sharla as I was amazed as to how the actress was able to endure such on-screen character humiliation and was able to deliver the raw emotions that came with her role. Juno Temple was also quite impressive, for a young actress, this role may indeed put her on the map. She played that “lost butterfly” part quite beautifully.
With such multi-dimensional characters and a well structured screenplay by Tracy Lett, the brutal violence became a part of its cumulative impact to deliver the emotions of its premise. It was a calculating move, if you pay close attention, the film starts off as a caper, then it becomes a kind of a sexy film complete with full frontal nudity and hinted at sex. Each scene played a part in creating the power of its narrative, as I became totally immersed into the film. I know several viewers may say that the film was disturbing and it is indeed brutal and hard to watch, but what it does well is the fact that it injected major emotions that it did not wallow on its violence alone. Pretentious art house horror such as “The Human Centipede” would do well in taking notes with movies such as “Killer Joe”. It is depraved, violent and yet positively amazing in the way it manages to instill emotions.
So was I entertained with this film? Frankly no, it is not the kind of movie meant to entertain but rather a film that causes its viewer to face a piece of life, or in this case, a harsh piece of that life where every one seems to screw one another that only a murderer could stand as the one with the most sense of honor, however, twisted it may be. Chris phrased it well when he said “it’s like I shouldn’t be walking this Earth” (or something like that), and sometimes things like this do happen, whether we can admit it or not. Due to the disturbing nature of some scenes in this film, I could only give it a Timid Recommendation. Don’t let my comment fool you, this is an excellent film, but just not for everyone. If you liked The Girl Next Door, this one is for you.
Star Rating: William Friedkin’s Killer Joe is the kind of film where you don’t know whether to appreciate it for its audacity or condemn it for its perversity. I suspect most audiences will go both ways on it, not just while it’s playing but long after they have left the theater. Exactly how is one supposed to respond to a scene where fellatio is performed on a fried chicken drumstick by a woman whose nose has been broken and has blood smeared … more
By Joan Alperin Schwartz 'Killer Joe' written by the brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Tracy Letts (based on his play) and directed by the 70+ year old, William Friedkin (Exorcist) blew me away for many reasons...But the main one is... Matthew McConaughey's extraordinary Oscar worthy performance as cop/hitman, Killer Joe Cooper. Never has McConaughey been better or more terrifying. … more