The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) makes terrible decisions when it comes to their democratic, know-nothing ratings system. Last year, they gave Blue Valentine an undeserved NC-17 because of one scene that dealt with undesired sex, NOT rape, but sex with a wife who was no longer in love with her husband. Thankfully that rating was fought and overturned. More recently, Bully, the documentary about bullying in high schools received an R from the MPAA, forcing the filmmakers to re-cut the film down to a PG-13 so it could reach its intended younger audience. I think its important to mention all this because the ratings board gave Killer Joe an NC-17. There is a difference between this film and the rest though. Killer Joe both deserves and embraces its rating.
Killer Joe, the second collaboration between renowned director William Friedkin and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Tracy Letts, is filled with excellent performances, superb direction and scenes that will not be forgotten any time soon. The film focuses around the Smith family; a family so fucked up and amusing that if they were non-fictional, A&E would pounce on them for a weekly half-hour show. After the brilliantly placed Zippo clicks over simple white-on-black titles, we are introduced to Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) as he pounds on the door to his father, Ansel’s, trailer. Chris is in a hairy situation; his mother stole two kilos of cocaine from him that he intended to sell, but can no longer cover the money, so his dealer is out to kill him. The door opens and there stands Sharla Smith (Gina Gershon), his stepmother, and then Chris is thrown into another “hairy” situation.
Chris divulges a plan to Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) that if they kill his mother (Ansel’s ex-wife) they can collect on her life insurance policy. Dottie (Juno Temple), Chris’s sister, is their mom’s sole beneficiary and after overhearing the plan, she seems to be quite taken with the idea. Neither father nor son has committed murder before, so they enlist a Dallas Police detective who doubles as a contract killer to help them collect their money – his name is ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). There’s a slight problem though; Joe takes his fee up front. However, after some hesitance on the part of the Smith family, Joe accepts Dottie as a retainer and smelling her virginity a mile away, Joe plans to live out his sexual fantasies that are reminiscent of Patrick Batmen in perhaps the most uncomfortable scene of the film.
Killer Joe’s plot plays out like a Coen Brothers’ film. Missteps are made and hilarity ensues. The biggest surprise is how damn funny it is. Like I stated earlier, the Smith family is incredibly dysfunctional. Their personalities collide unleashing dark and dry one-liners that hit the audience perfectly in all the right places. The film even has a gag involving a loose string on Ansel’s suit jacket that got a bigger laugh than most comedies of late. As for violence – remember the NC-17? – Killer Joe is not all that violent compared to its running time; after all, it was a stage play first. But when we are exposed to the excessive violence there within, nothing is held back. Faces get smashed. Blood oozed. The audienced “ooo’d” and “ahhh’d” and turned their heads. It was glorious.
Matthew McConaughey is on roll this year. First Bernie, then the role he was destined to play in Magic Mike, McConaughey keeps on delivering and as Killer Joe shows a side we haven’t seen before – and one we won’t have trouble remembering. His performance is charming and chilling and I couldn’t imagine another actor for the part. The whole cast seems perfect; Gershon being another stand-out. Juno Temple is a star on the rise and her role as Dottie will likely garner attention from studios and casting directors looking to bring an enormous talent to their projects. Again, it is McConaughey who steals the show, owning every scene he is apart of. The final scene of the movie will either leave you speechless or feverishly talking. Killer Joe is not a film to miss.