Bug (2006), which I consider to be one of the very best films in recent memory and has subsequently became my favorite Friedkin film. Just like Bug, Killer Joe was based on a play by Letts, his first in fact, and promised to be something very different to anything else happening in film these days, quickly gaining a word of mouth reputation on the festival circuit which only made me more eager to finally see it. I’m positively giddy to say that not only were my high expectations met, but were exceeded beyond the beyond as Friedkin and Letts did it again as the saying goes, making one of the best and most memorable films of the last decade.
Desperate and in debt to some seriously bad guys, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) approaches his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) with the idea of putting a hit out on his estranged mother, the owner of a very inciting life insurance policy, by hiring “Killer” Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a detective who doubles as a hitman to do the deed. Unable to front Joe’s advance, Joe proposes the idea of taking Chris’ younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer until payment can be made. Reluctantly, Chris and Ansel agree along with Ansel‘s wife Sharla (Gina Gerson), Chris‘ stepmother, although a wrench is thrown into the operation causing the plans of all parties involved to go wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
It didn’t take long for Killer Joe to become infamous due to a scene involving Gina Gershon and a piece of fried chicken, and although the film is indeed gleefully fucked up in parts, making no apologies for it, rest assured that the film consists of so much more than just shock value for shock value’s sake. First and foremost Tracy Letts is a brilliant writer with a real knack for creating interesting characters. Characters that may be completely despicable in one way or another, but you’ll sure love spending time with them, most likely due to their eccentricities, which is exactly the case when it comes to the Smith clan. Easily the most dysfunctional “family unit” this side of my old neighbors, it really is fascinating to watch these people make one horrible decision after another, the way they react to certain situations and their “interactions” with each other, IE hurling insults at one another that would possibly make even Jerry Springer blush, the altercation between Chris and Sharla early on in the film being a standout. The film could easily be described as the blackest comedy since Man Bites Dog (1992). While the film’s depraved sense of humor obviously isn’t going to be everyone’s bucket of K Fried C, if it is than you’re going to have a field day. There are instances, the chicken scene in particular not to mention the dozy of a finale, where many will be unsure whether or not to gasp in horror or piss themselves with laughter, or do both at the same time. Exactly the reaction Friedkin and Letts were going for I’m sure.
Once again Friedkin hit the jackpot in the casting department. If I were to dedicate a section of this to each member of the cast, that in itself would be 5 paragraphs long so I’ll try and keep it as condensed as possible. Anybody who’s seen the film can attest to the fact that Matthew McConaughey puts on a clinic of epic proportions, a performance that’s destined to become iconic and from the looks of things it’s already starting to become just that. The key word when discussing McConaughey’s performance is stealth. Joe isn’t a ranting, raving lunatic frothing at the mouth or anything like that. McConaughey gives a suave, calm and collected performance, leaving the audience to guess just what Joe capable of, and when the crucial moment arrives when he demonstrates his true colors, maximum impact is felt. He has the ability to change the tone of any scene on a dime, going from funny to awkward to incredibly tense in the span of seconds with ease. While Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, who’s comic timing in the film is perfect, and Gina Gershon, who really outdoes herself here, going places most actresses probably wouldn’t even consider going, all kill it (pun defiantly intended) in their roles, knocking it out of the park, if there’s one member of the ensemble who stands out alongside McConaughey, it’s Juno Temple. Temple is not only convincing as the dimwitted (yet we get the sense that she’s the wisest person in the Smith family trailer) Dottie, but her character is probably the most interesting in the entire film, alongside Joe of course.
Again, Killer Joe was released with the NC-17 rating in tow as Friedkin refused to cave to the MPAA stating "Cutting would not have made it mass appeal. Cutting it would have been the equivalent of what members of the United States government and military leaders said about the Vietnam War. They said, "We have to destroy Vietnam in order to save it," and that's what I would have done to Killer Joe. To get an R rating, I would have had to destroy it in order to save it and I wasn't interested in doing that." Even still when the film hit disc late last month Lion’s Gate opted to release 2 separate versions of the film, fully uncut and a toned down R rated cut, which I guarantee was just to appease certain retail outlets and something else I found odd was some sites had the R rated version available for pre-order before the uncensored version! Not that it matters now though, what does matter is that the director’s cut is fully available for everybody to see, and see it you should. The sooner the better. You know, the way things are in American cinema these days, it’s really inspiring to know that films like Killer Joe are still being made by a maverick director not giving 2 shits about commercial appeal and a fearless cast willing to go for it with reckless abandon. Just like I did with Bug, I can’t recommend Killer Joe enough, and every chance I get you bet I’m going to preach it’s gospel. This, as the kids say, is where it’s at.