April 8, 2013

A Good Movie Treated Badly: a review of "Killer Joe" (starring Matthew McConaughey)

Killer Joe
starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Hayden Church
directed by William Friedkin
written by Tracy Letts (based on his play of the same name)
LD Entertainment (2012)

I saw a documentary a couple years ago called This Film Is Not Yet Rated. It was a hilarious indictment of the MPAA ratings system. If you haven't seen it, and you love movies, I encourage you to check it out, because after seeing it you'll understand that they didn't slap the dreaded "NC-17" rating on Killer Joe for any more sensible reason than someone had a bug up their ass about the mature subject matter and subsequently saw a chance to throw their weight around. There's no rhyme or reason as to why this movie would be censored, while other movies like Old Boy (a movie with scenes as gruesome, if not more so, as in this movie) skate by with a "R".

Killer Joe tells the story of Chris Smith (Hirsch), a Dallas lowlife, who finds himself up to his neck in debt to some thugs even more unsavory than him. To keep his head attached to his neck, Chris gets the idea to hire a hitman who will kill his estranged mother, so he and his addle-brained father (Church) can collect the insurance money. They nearly have to ditch their plans when Chris' little sister, Dottie (Temple), finds out, but it turns out the twisted little twelve-year-old wants their mother dead, too. At this point in the movie, you realize the Smith clan makes the worst Jerry Springer guests look like they're straight out of a Rockwell painting.

As much as we see Chris and his bad situation go even worse, there is an even seedier and disturbing storyline surrounding Dottie, as she is basically held up as collateral in hiring the hitman known as Killer Joe (McConaughey). Handing your naive sister over to a professional killer makes you one slimy piece of garbage, but add in the fact that she is only twelve-years-old. That's effed up. Joe is cold, efficient, not to mention a detective who does his hired kills on the side, because I guess everyone needs a hobby, but his character becomes even more unsettling when he takes a sexual interest in Dottie.

Sufficed to say that there are absolutely no likable characters in this movie, except maybe Dottie since she's a pawn and a sexually exploited girl, but even she winds up in the course of the movie to have some disquieting personality traits of her own. Granted, she was raised by users and abusers, so there's bound to be some psychological scarring in that environment. So if you're looking for a white knight in the movie, don't bother, because this isn't that kind of movie.

The way the story plays out is like trailer trash Shakespeare with its tragic portrayals of deeply flawed and irredeemable characters. It was utterly captivating--when it didn't make my skin crawl. If you like your melodrama a little more cozy than caustic, stay the hell away from Killer Joe. Oh, and be prepared to never look at fried chicken the same way ever again (watch the movie if you want to know what I mean by that).

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