Killer Joe is a 2012 crime thriller starring Matthew McConaughey (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Lincoln Lawyer), Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog, Into the Wild), Juno Temple (Atonement, The Dark Knight Rises), and Thomas Haden Church (Sideways, Spider-Man 3). The film was directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection).
Killer Joe begins with Chris Smith (Hirsch) asking his father Ansel (Church) for some help financially as he has a $6000 debt with a local Texan drug dealer. He is far behind on his payment and if not paid in the next few days, his life may fall to the dealer. Ansel does not have the money and as he describes it, “I have never had $1000 in my life.” Chris turns to drastic measures when he wants to put a hit on his evil mother so his sister Dottie (Temple) can gain sole possession of the woman’s $50,000 life insurance policy. Chris hires Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a successful hitman who lives as police detective by day, to perform the task. Joe wants $25,000 on the spot but when Chris and Ansel do not have the money right then and there, he puts a “retainer” on the deal to date Dottie until the money is paid. As the relationship between the characters grow, there are twists and turns along the way that impacts each individual differently and leads to an ending much different than thought of days before.
What should be made apparent about Killer Joe is that it is a film one should prepare themselves for before seeing it. Although it is “lighter” in its first half, once the story picks up to its rousing conclusion it is a film that will grab audience attention in a way few films can. The NC-17 rating, a rare one that has gained more spotlight since Shame‘s release last year, is all the more justified but that should not hold one back from seeing this film if they can and want to. The rating is also justified because even though other films may be more violent than this one, Killer Joe is just not a film that under-17 audiences could appreciate or truly understand against other crime films.
The story here is surprisingly fairly simple and in some areas plays very by the book for the genre. With the rating though, the film is able to take more risks that more times than not make the story arc stronger. There are no hesitations to taking risks in the story here and as such the film can make sense out of anything introduced beforehand and justify them later in the film.
Director William Friedkin is already known for making one of the most well-received horror films ever made, The Exorcist. 41 years later and being a director in his mid-70′s, Friedkin still hasn’t lost his talent for making a strong film with horror and crime elements well in tact. Without giving away what happens, the last third of the film justifies that Friedkin still has it. How someone ultimately decides if they enjoy this film or not ultimately lies in how they interpret the ending and if they appreciate it. Like it was said earlier, it is an ending unlike other films filled with horrifying and more unique crime story elements and might just change how audiences perceive certain everyday events or items. Even through all the bloodiness in the last third, the writing of it is just as intriguing as is the writing of the whole film. Also, the last shot is a great one for the film as it allows the audience to interpret everything that happened beforehand and if certain actions were justified and if some characters actually changed along the way. Friedkin captures these interpretations very well.
Despite the horror and crime thriller elements displayed in the film, the film still finds some time for humor. The first half of the film’s humor is typical inserts of comedy that help move certain elements of the film along. When it comes to the ending, it is a humor that helps relieve some tension during the events at hand. Either way, it is all communicated effectively and move the film along well.
The performances here are really great and a lot of the performances add to the complexity of the characters portrayed. It is great to see Emilie Hirsch back on the screen after a small hiatus from the screen as he adds his usual charm and complexity as seen by his previous performances. His performance also works because it makes the audience wonder whether Chris was truly desperate for his life or easily mistaken by the events occurring. Juno Temple, who has been left with typical supporting roles in the past, finally gets a chance to show her acting chops as the complex character of Dottie and makes her one of the more interesting characters of the film. Thomas Haden Church does a fine job as he usually does. The true star is Matthew McConaughey who gives what might be his career-best performance. He adds such a wide range of variety to Killer Joe that makes him a character unlike many seen this year. He fulfills the characteristics involved with such a high-power performance that one could easily forget his lesser performances over the years. The film may be too small in the end, but his performance should be in awards consideration.
Killer Joe is a film unlike not just most crime films but most films in general. It is a rewarding experience but in a much different light but if one understands how the events play out and the context of those events, this film is something else. Rousing performances and a return to form for Friedkin both in story and direction make Killer Joe a film to be seen.
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church
Rating: NC-17 for graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality
Runtime: 103 minutes
Current U.S. Box Office: $220,000
(ratings on a 4-star scale)