Title: Killer Joe
Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Director(s): William Friedkin
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fool’s Gold, Sahara, Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past, Failure to Launch. How many times have we seen Matthew McConaughey deliver his witty, ladies man performance? Every once in a while he gives a performance that’s worth noting (The Lincoln Lawyer and A Time to Kill come to mind) but for each performance he has given, its been trapped between several mediocre films that rely heavily on him saving them. That’s why it’s refreshing to see him doing a performance that probably will remain his best yet, in Killer Joe. The film, which is directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist) and written by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the play it’s based on), is a dark and comedic story that will have most viewers sitting in their seats with their hands over their face due to the awkward and unnerving nature that some scenes play out.
The story follows an interesting, yet generic plotline, about Chris (Emile Hirsch) needing money so he hatches a scheme to kill his mother and get her life insurance policy of $50,000. He enlists the help of Joe Cooper (McConaughey) who is a detective and also doubles as a contract killer. Where the movie starts getting really interesting is when Chris’s 12 year-old sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) is given to Joe as a retainer until he receives $25,000 of the insurance money. From there, the awkward situations begin to play out, and McConaughey delivers some of the creepiest scenes he has ever had to do. This movie really shines in the acting from almost every star of the film, most notably Juno Temple, Matthew McConaughey, and Gina Gershon. All are forced to give stellar performances by the subject matter at hand, and you would be hard pressed to find another film out so far this year that matches their performances. Not only that, the interactions that play out between every cast member are so surreal that you will always be captivated.
It’s also the situations some of these characters are put into that brings out the best acting in these stars, most notably a final scene that must have been about 20 minutes, and had unparalleled amounts of tension. It’s the scene that showcases just how incredibly dark this film can get, but also how funny the movie is. It’s not about witty remarks or humorous observations that make this film funny, it’s the use of a humorous item to bring about the most absurd and unnerving situations. The movie’s use of food is perhaps the best use of food in a violent film, that I have ever seen, and it’s what makes the film ridiculous and enthralling.
Perhaps the best way to truly appreciate what the film is offering is to look at the rating. It’s NC-17 for a reason, and while there’s plenty of nudity and violence, it’s the scenes that contain less nudity and less violence but more implication that make the movie so uncomfortable. All that being said, there are some minor complaints with the film, for example Emile Hirsch really didn’t make the film any better. He served as a way to move the plot ahead, but with a cast like the one in Killer Joe it is really disappointing to have him as a main character. Not to say he was bad, but he wasn’t anywhere near as good as the other stars. Also, Juno Temple was believable as a 12 year-old up until the point when she had to take her clothes off. Then it was apparent she wasn’t 12. But perhaps that works in the film’s favour to make the movie that much more unsettling. I would also argue that the film could have been slightly shorter, but I’m not gonna complain about that because there are many scenes in this movie that are phenomenal and make up for any minor length issues.
All that being said, Killer Joe is definitely one of my favourite films I’ve seen this year, and I really hope the movie gets some recognition come award season, but it really seems evident in the tone of the film and its narrow audience that it will suffer the same fate as Drive did last year. Which is a shame, because this is probably going to remain Matthew McConaughey’s best performance, and definitely creepiest, for a long time. But with his success in Magic Mike and his performance in this film, hopefully this means that McConaughey has severed ties with his romantic comedy past. The phrase has been being thrown about this year, and with so many buzz-worthy films coming up in the coming years that star McConaughey, it definitely does look true that he is making a u-turn and if he doesn’t walk out of next year with any awards for his performances, then I guess no one really can forgive him for Sahara.