KILLER JOE (NC-17)

Killer Joe (NC-17)

 

Movie Info

Rating: * * 

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church.

Director: William Friedkin.

Screenwriter: Tracy Letts. Based on his play.

Producers: Nicolas Chartier, Scott Einbinder.

An LD Entertainment release. Running time: 102 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, violence, gore. In Miami-Dade only: South Beach.


rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

William Friedkin’s Film of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe may be the most egotistical opening credit to ever adorn a movie. Is Friedkin really this desperate to remind everyone he’s still making movies? In his young-turk era in the 1970s, the director was a master of realistic, rough-hewn pictures ( The French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer). Then he hit a slump in the 1980s and 1990s with a string of duds — Jade, The Hunted, Rules of Engagement and most infamously The Guardian, the one about the tree that ate babies (no, seriously).

Recently, Friedkin has devoted himself to doing episodes of CSI and adapting the work of playwright Letts (this is their second collaboration, after 2006’s Bug). Killer Joe, which is actually Letts’ first play, is a Southern gothic story about trailer-park denizens doing horrible things to each other. The movie is unpleasant and nihilistic and devoid of any compassion or humor (some have called it a “dark comedy,” which is shorthand for “I don’t know what else to call it.”) The movie would be unwatchable if it were not filmed so well (the cinematographer is Caleb Deschanel, who also shot The Black Stallion and The Right Stuff) and if its cast were not so stellar.

There’s an undeniable fascination in watching Matthew McConaughey dig deep into a darkness he had never tapped before to play Joe Cooper, a demented small-town cop who hires himself out as a contract killer: Pay him $20,000 and he’ll get rid of anyone you want gone. McConaughey is the film’s main attraction: You’ve never seen this likable, funny actor radiate so much crazy heat and sinister intent: He seems capable of anything, no matter how demented — and as the movie unfolds, he proves it.

But to what end? The plot of Killer Joe follows what happens when the layabout Chris (Emile Hirsch), who owes money to some bad people, hires Joe to kill his estranged mother so he can use her life insurance policy to pay his debts. Chris’ father (Thomas Haden Church), who hates his ex-wife and could use a little cash himself, agrees. But their murderous scheme — which is approved by Chris’ shrew of a stepmother (Gina Gershon) — doesn’t go quite as planned.

Killer Joe is filled with supposedly outrageous touches such as having Gershon enter the film naked from the waist down, or turning Chris’ dim-witted little sister (Juno Temple) into a potential object of rape. The movie earned its NC-17 rating for some nauseating business involving a KFC chicken drumstick that qualifies as the most baffling product placement in movie history. But even beyond that scene, Killer Joe ladles on the extreme violence and gore, which would be tolerable in an exploitation movie but comes off as a cheap tactic in a film that aspires to explore the moral digressions we are capable of tolerating. You end up feeling sorry for all the actors forced to humiliate themselves, except for McConaughey, whose portrayal of sadistic, manipulative evil is mesmerizing, in part because it was so unexpected.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Guardians of the Galaxy’:</span> Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt form an unlikely team of space-jockey superheroes.

    Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

    Watching the zippy, ebullient Guardians of the Galaxy, you wonder “Why can’t all comic-book movies be this much fun?”

  •  
Dad (Ethan Hawke, right) plays around with his son (Ellar Coltrane) in a scene from “Boyhood.”

    Boyhood (R)

    Contrary to most dramas, which tend to dwell on traumatic or seismic events, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood argues that life is a compilation of small, everyday moments, an accumulation of the feelings and thoughts and emotions we start to gather from the time we are children. Shot over the span of 12 years, with the cast getting together for a few days annually to shoot some scenes, the movie charts the growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from the ages of 5 to 18. Mason has an older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) and he has two loving parents, Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke), who are divorced and live apart. Their relationship can be contentious at times, but they both care deeply for their kids.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Life Itself’:</span> Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert get into one of their countless arguments during the taping of their TV show.

    Life Itself (R)

    There are scholars who blame Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for dumbing down film criticism with their thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach, the same way they blame Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for ruining movies with the success of Jaws and Star Wars. But Siskel and Ebert accomplished just the opposite: They popularized criticism and introduced it to the masses via their PBS show in which they spent a lot of time debating (and fighting) over movies before delivering their final, yes-or-no verdict. The first version of their show, which was titled Sneak Previews and aired on PBS in the late 1970s, led me to read Pauline Kael and Film Comment and American Film and the Miami Herald’s late, great Bill Cosford as a kid. Suddenly, my nascent love of movies blew up: Movies weren’t just something you watched for entertainment. Sometimes, there was a lot to find beneath their surface.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category