Never in my life have I wanted KFC more.
The story centers on a brother (Emile Hirsch) and sister (Juno Temple) combo who plot the death of their mother for the insurance money and hire “Killer Joe” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) , a cop and contract killer to do the deed.
After hearing about all of the crazy controversy about this movie and it’s NC-17 rating, I knew I had to just check it out and see what all of the damn fuss is about. Yeah, it sounds strange that I would only want to go and see a flick based on it’s rating but come on, doesn’t it feel cool just going into an NC-17 movie, knowing that there’s going to be some dirty stuff that only you’re allowed to see. Actually when I word it like that, it sounds creepy. Never mind then.
76-year old legendary director William Friedkin shows that he still has the style and look to pull off any story, even the insanely-violent ones. Apparently this film was adapted from a stage-play (which is weird because I don’t necessarily think there is any audience out there that’s willing to see this type of material on stage) but Friedkin seems like he can do a lot more with it, than just making it a bunch of talking heads scenes. And even when there is talking heads scenes, they are suspenseful and very entertaining, with a whole bunch of dark comedy that will surely make you laugh, even at times that you don’t think you should.
The balance of dark humor and trashy violence is one of the key elements to Friedkin’s flick and he shows that he can make us laugh one second, but look away the next at how gruesome some of this material can get. The violence in this flick doesn’t happen all of the time, but when it does, it looks disgusting, ruthless, and so brutal to the point of where you can almost feel it. I won’t lie to you, I looked away from time-to-time, but not long enough to miss what Friedkin was showing us up on the screen: some straight-up, trailer-trash beatings. Great to see that Friedkin still has the touch that people have always seen him have back in his old days and it sort of gives hope to a lot of those older directors out there now who seem to be slowing down and getting softer in their old age. But not this guy, no sirree.
But as good as Friedkin may be behind-the-camera, the story somehow falters because everybody here, is just about as unlikable and distasteful as the next. Usually, when you have these types of stories where everybody is a baddie and you don’t know who to fall back on, there’s at least one character who at least seems likable more than them all, which there is here with Killer Joe himself, but whenever he isn’t around, you don’t really care much about anything or anybody else. These characters just go from doing one bad thing to another and it only gets worse and worse as the story goes on, which ultimately means that we start to care less and less for them and when their lives are in danger, we don’t really seem to care. I guess that’s the whole point of this film, but it didn’t do much for me.
Another problem that I seemed to have with this flick is that no matter how good it was with it’s intense dialogue and performances, it still felt a lot like a stage-play. A lot of the action that happens here, just takes place in a trailer-park home where it centered around two people just talking about God knows what. These conversations that these people have work well and distract us a bit from what seems overly-stagey, but when it comes right down to it, it still feels like a stage-play adapted to the big-screen with barely any changes here except for the actors and actresses.
However, where the story falters, the performances take over and keep your eyes on-screen the whole time. Emile Hirsch turns in another great lead performance here as Chris. Hirsch is one of those young, underrated actors that I think deserves more credit for taking challenging roles like these, rather than going down the teen idol path he could have easily gone for back when he did Speed Racer. Yeah, the movie sucked but girls were swooning all-over-the-place. His character bothered me, though, because it almost felt like this guy was getting too corrupt and dumb for his own good, and where it almost seemed like a cliché. Thankfully, the other characters distracted me enough from this problem but I still noticed it, none the less.
He is joined by Juno Temple, who plays his sister, Dottie, in one of those sweet, little innocent girl roles that doesn’t feel manipulative and we actually care for her character the most out of everybody else. She’s definitely the easiest character out of the bunch to feel some sympathy for and she feels more human than everybody else, if a tad contrived with all of her good-girl aspirations. Playing their parents are Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon, and both show that they have that off-kilter type of humor down-pat, but Gershon definitely feels like she’s stretching her acting talents a bit too far for her own good. However, her first appearance in this movie will probably have most people forgetting about her “acting talents” in the first place.
Still, as good as everybody is here, they don’t stand a chance against Matthew McConaughey‘s incredible performance as Killer Joe, a role that he seemed born to play. It seems like ever since The Lincoln Lawyer came out last year, McConaughey has been doing more and more roles that show the type of talents he has as an actor, rather than a guy who goes around, chasing babes like Jennifer Lopez and Kate Hudson, amongst others. There are amazingly hot and sexy ladies, but it doesn’t help his career out and I think he was starting to realize that, and that’s why he’s totally changing it all up this year. He was great as Dallas in Magic Mike, showing that he could steal just about every single damn scene he was in there, and he does the same thing here with this film but it’s a way different character from Dallas. Joe is a stone-cold killer that just looks like one of those menacing, mysterious dudes you do not ever want to mess with, ever.
However, this guy isn’t just a scary-ass dude the whole way through, McConaughey still brings out a lot of his charm and good looks to make this character seem like your everyday, good old Southern boy that you could see strolling through the streets with his cowboy hat and horse. But as time goes on, we start to see something more twisted and sinister inside of his mind in what could be some of the most tense last 20 minutes to any other film I have seen this whole year. Basically, McConaughey has totally re-invented himself by taking all of these different and darker roles which show the type of skill he has as an actor and it’s something I can’t wait to see more of. Let’s just hope he stays away from those damn rom-coms.
Consensus: Though the story may falter, Killer Joe still features a top-notch cast (especially a stand-out McConaughey), a tense and wild direction from Friedkin, and a great balance of dark humor and shocking violence/sex.