This film peaked my interest when I ran across it due to it’s brutal plot and seeing Matthew McConaughey in a very menacing role. I had no idea that the film was rated NC-17 until hitting play on it, which then made me wonder just what I was about to watch. Well I can say with confidence that yes Killer Joe is a very well made film on all accounts, but it also does earn it’s NC-17 rating and shouldn’t be viewed by kids, younger teens, or anyone sensitive to violence.
The acting from this cast is simply phenomenal all around. Gina Gershon and Matthew McConaughey are the two that really blew me away. This is not to say that the others didn’t impress me, but these two really turn in incredible performances. Gershon’s character is a trashy trailer park wife who’s unfaithful and certainly doesn’t mince any words. What I really loved about the way she played her role was that she was appropriately trashy without it ever seeming too over the top and she made it 100% believable. Also, she handles the searing intensity of the later scenes with incredible skill.
McConaughey plays his leading role with a steady coolheadedness and confidence that fits perfectly. His character is a corrupt police detective who acts as a hitman on the side for people willing to pay a good sum of money to have someone rubbed out. As the film goes on, and certain kinks arise in the master plan, we see Joe’s rough side emerge and I must say that McConaughey handles the extremely intense scenes with great skill. He really is a greatly talented actor his performance in this film is downright horrifying at times and he actually terrified me and gave me chills on several occasions.
Emile Hirsch is a very skilled actor and he brings those skills to his performance here as Chris, the young man who has the idea to hire Killer Joe. Hirsch proves he can tangle with the adults and gives this role all he has. I also want to praise Juno Temple for her performance as Dottie, the only person in this film that might be a decent human. Temple gives a convincing performance as the seemingly naïve little sister of Chris.
All the acting is 100% top notch, no debate about that. The writing is also very well done, the script constructs these disgusting low down people and gives us a brutally intense high stakes plot to follow them through. I like how we know exactly what kind of people these characters are right from the get go. Well, except for Joe. Joe is a bad guy for sure and the only thing we are given at the beginning to know that he’s bad is that he’s a hitman. If we didn’t know he was a hitman, we’d actually just think he was a too cool for school type of tough Texan. What I found interesting about him is that he’s very gentle with Dottie and actually has some nice dialogue with her in the beginning. I love the scenes him and Dottie share because they show us specific things about both characters that are important.
Given the type of person Joe is I was afraid he was going to rape or brutalize Dottie but in a very deceptive fashion, he does the opposite. He charms her and seems gentle in the beginning, which was a very smart decision on the part of the writers because most bad guys in real life don’t look like the devil at first. The devil won’t show you what he is, he wants to lure you in first and that’s what happens between Joe and Dottie and I thought that was very smart and believable.
The way in which the family behaves and acts towards each other becomes critically important to the plot and I liked how they either stuck with each other or didn’t. The final chapter of the film is really where the content that pushes the R rating comes into play. There’s a prolonged final scene in which everything comes to a violent chaotic head and while it does get disturbing, I think the things that transpire are realistic. As I was watching some of the brutality in the end I thought: “Well, if you play with the devil, expect to see some evil”. Joe is an evil person no doubt about it and so are Gershon and Church’s characters, so what befalls them isn’t all that shocking considering who they are and what they do.
This film is a very well made suspenseful thriller for sure but I think it’s also a very somber tragic social commentary of sorts. There are people like the family in this film and they are often from very poor communities. I kept thinking about the character of Dottie and how I’ve known sweet people like her in the same situation she’s in – the situation of being stuck in a low income bracket with a family that doesn’t really care much about you. My last note is that Thomas Haden Church’s character is a piece of literal s**t and is the reason we need easily accessible contraception.
Killer Joe is a very well made film that features excellent performances, a smart script, and doles out justice for it’s characters (for the most part). It’s a film I definitely suggest but you need to know that some of the content here is extreme and disturbing.
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