Killer Joe — a Twisted Texas Tale

Drugs, money, sex, violence, nudity, criminal schemes gone wrong. Everything you’ve seen before, but Killer Joe packs a punch so brutal that I’m still trying to process what I watched. And more importantly, I don’t remember the last movie I saw that left me so speechless in a theater. Whether you love it or hate it, you certainly won’t forget it.

Already notorious and nailed with the NC-17 kiss of death rating, Killer Joe raises the bar this year for flawless film making and acting. With a semi-predictable plot and over-the-top, cringe-worthy violence, Killer Joe isn’t highly original material. But why I give it such high acclaim is that all major and minor details, directing, outstanding acting (there isn’t one actor in this movie that doesn’t stand out) and shock-worthy scenes fall into a league of their own. It’s the kind of movie that hasn’t been seen in a while, and has enough force to leave you uncomfortable, horrified and in a perpetual state of shock.

The plot focuses around a white trash trailer park family named the Smiths who live in some obscure town outside of Dallas. When Chris (Emile Hirsch) discovers his mother flushed $6,000 worth of drugs down the drain, he enters a state of panic knowing that if he doesn’t come up with the money for his dealer, he’s dead. So he comes up with a plan…

Killer Joe Movie

Chris seeks out the help of his simple-minded father Hansel (Thomas Haden Church) and step-mom Sharla (an all-encompassing trailer park redneck played by Gina Gershon, who sets the family tone with her full frontal introduction) to concoct a scheme to come up with the money. The plan boils down to killing off mom to collect her $50,000 life insurance policy that is going to be left to the innocent 12-year-old sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Insert Joe Cooper, aka Killer Joe, a meticulous Dallas detective and hit man on the side. This is the kind of role Matthew McConaughey, who I normally despise as an actor, should immediately gravitate toward because he embodies this role with every gesture and syllable uttered.

Killer Joe Movie

Emma Simmonds from The Arts Desk summarized it perfectly…

Matthew McConaughey has long been stuck in a rom-com prison of his own making, but under Friedkin’s direction he busts out in style. Killer Joe reminds us how good he was in acclaimed fare such as Lone Star and Dazed and Confused.

Originally a 1993 play, Killer Joe is authentically crafted with ferocious violence and twisted humor by director William Friedkin (Oscar winning director of The French Connection and The Exorcist). Sparing no attention to detail, gore and some serious ass-kicking, what should be highlighted the most is the impressive cast that brought this trailer park twisted fairy tale into an uncomfortable cinematic reality.

But to say that the plan goes completely wrong would be downplaying how screwy this movie gets. Emile Hirsch’s face is permanently black and blue in almost every scene. And what amps up this NC-17 rating (aside from the unbelievable Juno Temple in Killer Joethunderstorm of violence) is when Chris can’t afford Killer Joe and uses his innocent, doe-eyed sister as collateral, or as Killer Joe refers to her, “the retainer.”

So with many viewers having mixed feelings about Killer Joe, this is why I think you should see it:

Killer Joe Dottie and Chris

  • The acting and characters. This is the first ensemble cast of the year that really dominated the screen. Every actor from Juno Temple to Emile Hirsch to Gina Gershon (who I was unfamiliar with) made this dysfunctional Texas family believable. Critics are already calling this Matthew McConaughey’s best performance to date. He’ll have an Oscar in the next few years if he keeps gravitating toward heavy material like this and avoiding the fluff.
  • Dark comedies (that are actually good) are hard to come by.
  • There hasn’t been a film this gritty and over-the-top in a while. It was almost reminiscent of Natural Born Killers.
  • The warm-fuzzy feeling movies seldom give you these days, except this is on a more darker, cynical, psychotic level. I haven’t watched a movie in a long time that left me speechless, overwhelmed and unable to leave my seat. Despite it’s times of predictability, each scene is revved up a few notches higher than expected.

11 thoughts on “Killer Joe — a Twisted Texas Tale”

  1. The film does sort of fall-asleep at times with all of it’s talking, but is still a very tense flick, mainly because of its well-acted ensemble. Especially McConaughey, who seems to be having an awesome year so far being himself, except with a darker side to him than we’re used to seeing. Good review Courtney.

  2. Goddamn, can’t wait for this one! Love this kinds of movies and I have a feeling this may be on the top of my list this year when I see it. Excellent review!

    1. I was really impressed with it! It’s important to know what you’re getting into and not walk into this movie blind… You obviously won’t, but that’s what I’ve told friends… Tippi included!

  3. I LOVE THE PLAY! I hope I love the movie too! Dragging Alex to Canal Place soon. Love your review Court.

    -Laurrrr Barrrrr

  4. […] Bottom Line: This is the Shame of 2012 that was completely ignored by the Academy due to the NC-17 kiss of death rating. With such a twisted script, this was the only film that had me completely speechless once the credits rolled. The ensemble cast gave some of the best performances of the year–particularly Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple and Gina Gershon. I was never a huge fan of McConaughey until Killer Joe; he just needs to stick to scripts like this instead of C-grade rom-coms. My Review […]

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