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