Killer Joe Review

The only appropriate reaction after viewing Killer Joe is to walk out of the theater in stunned silence. It is difficult to find words to describe this twisted familial drama. Impressive? Possibly. Shocking? Absolutely. Sickening? Most likely. An enjoyable experience? No.

Love this movie or hate it, it is undeniably a difficult film to sit through. Watching the brutal consequences of one bad decision after another is a punishing experience for most film goers, but adding in what is quite possibly one of the most disturbing on-screen romances of all time will surely make this movie unwatchable to a fair amount of viewers.

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a man who has run out of luck. He is desperate for money after his stash of drugs disappears, leaving him six-thousand dollars in debt to a violent drug dealer. After consulting with his equally unintelligent father, Chris decided he only has one course of action, to retain the services of “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas Police Detective and hit-man for hire. Chris plans to have his mother killed to cash in on her life insurance, a crisp fifty thousand, but when he is unable to pay Joe up front, the family capitulates and gives him Dottie, Chris’s 12 year-old sister, as collateral.

Even if you were to hate this film, it would be hard not to admire the directorial skill of William Friedkin. The director of classics such as The French Connection and The Exorcist once again flaunts his talent as a film maker, teaming up with renowned cinematographer Caleb Deschanel to create a film that is virtually airtight from a visual perspective. However, these two certainly do not deserve all the credit for this movie’s successes, as McConaughey carries this film in what could only be described as his best performance to date. McConaughey’s onscreen presence is unsettling, and the feeling of disgust Joe’s actions inspire in the audience is almost palpable. A veritable psychopath, Killer Joe is equal parts demented and charismatic, a combination that McConaughey pulls off with such skill many critics have deemed his performance nomination worthy, and he has proved that he is one hell of an actor.

In my opinion, this films biggest problem is its NC-17 rating. If the entire movie was just a little more reserved, and less aggressive about trying to offend its viewers, I think it would have been a much better film. As it stands, the movie completely flies off the rails in the third act, and while the ending is really interesting and fairly effective, the movie once again oversteps its boundaries to the point where every terrible thing that could happen to the characters does indeed happen. The other critical flaw is the pacing, or maybe just the writing in general.  Killer Joe was adapted from a play of the same name by the same man who wrote the play, and that becomes painfully obvious in a few scenes that seem to get bogged down by excessive discussion or dialogue. While they wouldn’t have been an issue in a play, these moments destroy the pacing of the film as it jolts from brutal and urgent to a slow crawl, as it tries and fails to become cerebral and clever.

Needless to say, many people will be put off by this film. Shallow as it may seem at times, it is certainly mentally pervasive, and not a film that will be easily forgotten. It is twisted, haunting, and the only movie I have ever seen where I felt like a bad person for laughing when I was supposed to. After all, this movie is technically considered a dark comedy, but if anyone comes away from this movie raving about how funny it was, clearly they were watching a different film than I was.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

12 thoughts on “Killer Joe Review

  1. Steve September 24, 2012 / 12:19 am

    Except for one fragile soul who walked out halfway through, those in attendance when I saw this film had nothing but praise for it. Maybe we’re just leather-tough, but we all had a blast watching this pleasantly disturbing and entertaining film. I certainly didn’t find it unpalatably offensive.

    • Andrew King September 24, 2012 / 1:30 am

      Neither did I an some respects, I am far too desensitized for anything like this to really phase me, but I still felt it detracted from the movie because it threw it too far out of the realm of possibility. Without saying “I love brutal violence and pointless nudity”, I don’t think there is any real argument in defense of this films NC-17 rating. In general, I thought most of the nudity has pointless and unnecessary, especially when compared to a film like Shame which handled it so tastefully. William Friedkin even said he was willing to cut things out to make it R, but they asked him to cut out too much. I think if he has just dialed it back a little, and maybe made the character act a little more realistically at the end of the film, it would have been a much better film.

      • Steve September 24, 2012 / 6:45 am

        I guess I just like that whole over the top-ish-ness – made it feel like a play afterall, whereas so many movies just feel stale. I admit * staring us in the face near the beginning elicited a few WTFs, but that whole WTF mentality added to the fun spirit of the film I thought.

  2. Drew September 24, 2012 / 2:31 am

    I haven’t heard about this movie until now, but I really do wanna see it. I wanna see that the same guy who starred in “Surfer, Dude” could pull off menace like this. Besides, McConnaughey is acting on that “Freshman girls always stay the same age” line he said in Dazed and Confused hahaha!

    • Andrew King September 24, 2012 / 2:48 am

      That’s exactly what this movie made me thing of. I think it is worth seeing for sure, I just didn’t really love it.

      • Drew September 24, 2012 / 2:51 am

        I have a pretty alright tolerance for gore and darker themes, so hopefully it won’t affect me as much.

  3. riainthecity September 24, 2012 / 3:38 pm

    Gonna see end of watch tomorrow! WOOT WOOT! *random*

    • Andrew King September 24, 2012 / 4:36 pm

      I am actually reviewing that and should have it up in a few days. I thought it looked really bad, but I was a little blown away by how well done it was. So much better then your average cop movie, despite the first half of so kind of having no central premise.

      • riainthecity September 24, 2012 / 4:46 pm

        One name, ‘Jake Gyllenhaal’ ENOUGH SAID 😉

  4. Abuela September 28, 2012 / 2:57 am

    Thank you for visiting my site. Wow! You do offer in depth insights into the movies you see! It makes for interesting reading.

  5. Briohny Doyle October 3, 2012 / 5:05 am

    Waaaaaahhhh. This movie keeps showing up in my flixster app but doesn’t appear to be showing ANYWHERE in Melbourne. It’s the second film I assumed would get a wide cinema release so didn’t bother going to see at the film festival, the other being Seeking A Friend for The End of The World. I have no idea what is going on with distro. Could Killer Joe have had a problem with ratings? Hopefully they will be out on BR soon enough.

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