WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
When low-level drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) loses $6000 worth of merchandise, he knows his days are numbered unless he can pay off the debt. Knowing that his mother, who he despises, has a life insurance policy worth $50,000- with his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) named as the beneficiary, Chris and his father Ansel (Thomas Hayden-Church) plot to do her in. To that end, they hire Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) - a dirty cop, who makes a lucrative side living as a hit man. Not having the $10,000 needed to pay him, Joe convinces them to let him take Dottie as sexual collateral.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
If there was any justice in the film world, Matthew McConaughey would be celebrating an Oscar nomination for his incredible, career redefining performance in William Friedkin’s KILLER JOE. An adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play (where Michael Shannon originally played the part) - KILLER JOE is a movie that took many of us by surprise upon its release last summer. I saw it a full eighteen months ago at TIFF 2011, and while I was probably too caught in a virtual nonstop orgy of films to appreciate how darkly funny it really is, I was absolutely thrown for a loop by McConaughey- who we’d all pretty much written off by that point.
KILLER JOE- while probably too dark to ever get McConaughey and Friedkin the mainstream appreciation they deserve- namely Oscar nominations, thoroughly reinvented McConaughey’s screen image, marking his reemergence as one of the most interesting lead actors currently working in dark indie fare. Joe is a brilliantly written part, and he brings not only the requisite malevolence to his cop-turned-hit man, but also a sex appeal and charm that we probably wouldn’t have gotten with the (great) Shannon in the part. KILLER JOE- for all his insanity almost emerges as an attractive character through McConaughey’s skilled performance.
As for Friedkin, it’s his best movie in years. No stranger to Letts (having previously shot BUG)- Friedkin embraces the stage origins of the material, not going out of his way to make it overly cinematic (although it’s gorgeously shot and scored). Rather- he gives the dialogue and performances free reign, and the result is one of the more intense films to come out this year. The whole last act of the film, culminating in a weird chicken fellatio scene, and a vicious pummeling with a can of soup which handily earned this film it’s NC-17 rating (although the Blu-ray is unrated), is shocking- but almost funny in its viciousness.
KILLER JOE comes packed with a few really intriguing extras. Friedkin’s known for his commentary tracks , and KILLER JOE has a good one. I never tire of hearing this master pontificate on his movies (please- Universal- put out an SE of SORCERER or let Criterion do it!). There’s also a really interesting intro & Q&A from KILLER JOE’s sold out SXSW screening in Austin- which is well worth a watch. There’s also a red band trailer and a twenty-five minute documentary examining the process of adapting Letts’ play to film.
KILLER JOE is one of those rare movies that I actually liked more on a second viewing, as I was finally able to appreciate it’s dark humor, and elements beyond McConaughey- who I always thought was brilliant. I’d wager he was robbed of an Oscar nomination- but considering the new, exciting direction he’s headed in, a future nomination can’t be far off. I just hope it’s for something as ballsy as this.