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on September 3, 2012
The late Roger Ebert said in his review for "Killer Joe" that the film left him speechless--and that's saying a lot, especially from a guy who's seen a lot of films. Rated NC-17, this was only available at the Opera Plaza Theater in the city (SF), but the small theater was packed! The audience laughed, gasped and--just like Ebert said--were rendered speechless by the shocking, blood-soaked finale.

An inevitable cult classic, there are many scathing scenes (one including the creative use of a chicken drumstick), and a lot of slick, smooth dialog--especially from Joe (brilliantly played by Matthew McConaughey) who just happens to be an officer of the law who moonlights as a killer for hire.

Hats off to veteran director William Friedkin, at 76 he has lost none of the edge he displayed in the 70's with his gritty police thriller "The French Connection", or his synth-infused masterpiece from the 80's "To Live & Die in L.A.". The story, adapted from a play by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Letts ("Bug"), is right up Friedkin's alley, behind the bloody black humor his fatalistic view of human nature still shines through.

There's horror in "Killer Joe"; audiences cringed with pure horror back in the 70's with "The Exorcist", this time they gasped and giggled at the same time.

The overriding criticism against this film is that its characters are deplorable, and that the ending was "unsatisfying". Question: who says a film has to have likeable characters? Your film school instructor? Ever seen Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull"? The main character (Jake La Motta) is near sub-human, but the film is now considered a classic character study of a self-destructive, sadomasochistic man. And the "unsatisfying" ending--well, if you want a classic climax and resolution check out the top 10 grossing films in America, and steer clear from anything that isn't in the top 10.

P.S - Friedkin fans, as the screen cuts to black and Clarence Carter's 80's song "Strokin" starts blaring, don't we nostalgically recall the ending of Friedkin's Cruising (Deluxe Edition), the film Al Pacino still refuses to talk about?
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on June 9, 2013
I never liked Matthew McConaughey for the very fact he was the go-to guy when it came to being a heart throb in romantic comedies. All the girls seem to fawn over him but I never thought he was such a good actor. I can't watch 'Failure to Launch' because he is in it, despite Zoey Deschaunel's hilarious presence. However, in this disturbing but (in my perspective, also hilarious) movie, Matthew shows a crazier side to him. Sure, anyone who's bothered to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation can see that he could deliver an odd personality when given the chance but rather than the hilariously wild man he's demonstrated before, this movie gives him a chance to show that on-the-edge kind of guy where anything can make him tick, and he's completely unpredictable. The chicken leg scene is a delight (watch the movie and that scene will make you rethink taking a chicken leg ever again). With the help of the actor who portrays (sorry, I don't know this actor's name) Ansel, this movie comes out to be comical. Without the aforementioned, I would be a little unhinged. I think this movie is one of those films that either you love it, or just plain hate. Personally, I love it.
I bought this movie on Amazon Instant Video and for the price being paid, I enjoyed it. I even watch it again (sometimes twice in a row). :)
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William Friedkin has been around for many, many years but the man still knows how to direct a movie. Now in his mid-70s, his sense for movie-making is as sharp as it was 40 years ago when directing "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist" brought his wide acclaim.

"Killer Joe" (105 min.) was originally screened at the 2011 Venice Film Festival but a battle with the MPAA over the film's NC-17 rating held up its US release for almost a year. The distributor LD Entertainment ultimately decided to release the film unchanged and with the NC-17 rating. The plot centers around Chris (played by Emile Hirsch), a small time drug dealer desparately in need of money, and lots of it. With the help and support of several others, including his dad and also his mom's boyfriend, Chris decides to hire a contract killer, Joe, played by Matthew McConaughey, to kill his mom and collect the insurance money. All I will say is that eventually Joe does his part of the deal, but that there are a number of complications. To give away more of the plot would really ruin your viewing experience so you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out. This movie is a great example of a "film noir" and then some, hence I'd call it "ultra-noire".

There is a reason that this movie is rated NC-17, so if you are squirmish about violent scenes, do yourself a favor and don't watch this movie. But if you can deal with that, you will be in for one wild and entertaning ride. There are several noteworthy performances. Let's start with Matthew McConaughey, who without a doubt brings a career-defining performance as Killer Joe. It's a shame it comes in a movie not a lot of people are likely to see due to the rating, as for me this is an Oscar-nomination worthy performance. Also bringing an astounding performance is Gina Gershon as Sharla, Chris' stepmother. Towards the end of the movie, when all hell breaks loose, she does one unforgettable scene that will raise the hairs on your neck. And last but not least is June Temple, as Chris' sister Dottie. Temple is rapidly building a name and profile for herself (she recently also was in The Dark Knight Rises and The Three Musketeers). In all, beware of the violence, but this is a very dark, yet entertaining and excellent movie. Miles away from your standard Hollywood fare, "Killer Joe" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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on December 10, 2013
Fantastic work by actors, director, cinematographer and a largely compelling story almost make up for the fact that up up to about 2/3 of the way through, everything devolves into not-so-grand Guignol. That's mostly the play, I guess, which Tracy Letts himself has dubbed a "young man's play," but it's not like Friedkin held anything back. I kept thinking "courage of one's convictions" as I was watching (through my fingers).

Others have found this play/movie "condescending"; I wasn't feeling that at all, but these are characters who aren't easy to watch and from whom some viewers may want to distance themselves by any means necessary.

Despite the ultraviolence, fans of "Night of the Hunter" and the original "Cape Fear" will probably want to check this one out. There aren't many actors today who have even a fraction of Mitchum's presence, and McConaughey has that and arguably greater chops. Friedkin is a magician, as is the cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel. And Gina Gershon is absolutely fearless in ways that most women don't get to be on screen these days.
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VINE VOICEon December 30, 2012
In the opening moments of director William Friedkin's KILLER JOE, you're going to know whether or not you're the target audience for this film as Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch; INTO THE WILD; MILK) is let into his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church; SPIDER-MAN 3, SIDEWAYS) and stepmother Sharla's (Gina Gershon; SHOWGIRLS, BOUND) trailer by Sharla who is wearing nothing but a shirt. If you repel in moral disgust and indignation, you're really not going to like this film at all. If you are unsettled, find it funny, or shaken by this moment, then you are probably someone that will enjoy this twisted amorality play.

Chris is desperate. He owes more than he can pay to some violent bookies and hatches a doomed scheme to kill his birth mother for her insurance money. He gets his father in on the scheme by assuring that a near-mythical hit man named Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas homicide detective, will do the job. But since they don't have the money, they only have one option available: Joe will do the job with a retainer on receiving the $25,000 he demands for his work. The problem is that the retainer is Chris's sister Dottie (Juno Temple; THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, ATONEMENT), a beautiful, innocent and very strange young woman. Once things are set in motion, the film begins to reach a fever pitch of hilarity, violence and disturbing sexuality leading to its unforgettable final act, which has events likely to stay with you for some time.

Friedkin collaborates once again with Tracy Letts, a playwright who also adapted another of his plays, Friedkin's 2006 much more disturbing BUG and this is yet another thing that will very likely polarize audiences. The highly-stylized direction and dialogue have the sensibilities of being more theatrical than cinematic, but Friedkin and his decades of experience bring the visual fabric of this film to very vivid life. The script is something like the deranged love child of Sam Shepard and surrealist Maria Irene Fornes; hyper-real at certain points and terrifically bizarre at others. Another thing about this film is that I don't know exactly what the differences might be between this "Unrated" cut and its theatrical NC-17 cut, but they can't be too far removed from one another. It's not a film packed with scenes of sexuality or extreme violence; in fact, there are really no "sex scenes" to speak of. But the film does have scenes of explicit nudity, and the one scene guaranteed to garner its NC-17 rating is not a scene I will describe here, but it's a scene of sexual violence involving fried chicken that, frankly, you can never unsee. Again, this is NOT a film for the faint of heart.

As far as the performances, they are career highs for just about everyone involved. Hirsch brings as much sympathy and relatability to an intensely unlikable character; Gershon, who hasn't really been seen in quite some time, gives easily her best performance since BOUND; Haden Church is wonderfully funny as the unforgivably dim Ansel, and his deadpan delivery and facial expressions are in top form. But the real triumpths belong to Temple and McConaughey, who do the best work of their careers thus far here. Temple, who hasn't been in much, and rarely in a highly-featured role, shines with a radiant beauty and wide-eyed innocence particularly as she regales with stories of her only boyfriend that she had in the third grade, and the way she describes the attempt on her life by her mother. McConaughey owns this film with what is truly his best work to date. He does away completely with the charming good-ole-boyness that he often brings to his work, and instead oozes menace with an evil intelligence that allows him to be so good at what he does, a steely gaze that is almost hypnotic, and a calm demeanor that holds something much more frightening beneath it.

KILLER JOE seems to exist in the same sub-genre of film (what I, and others call "Redneck Noir") as The Coen Brothers films BLOOD SIMPLE and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. While it includes many of the tropes of noir, it also turns them on their heads with such bravura and skill that it puts most other modern neo-noir films to shame. It's a terrifying and challenging masterpiece of filmmaking, and it's a shame that most audience members looking to see a dark comedy with Matthew McConaughey The Movie Star are going to be sorely disappointed because Matthew McConaughey The Actor has arrived, and I look forward to seeing many more films with THIS Matthew McConaughey in them.
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on January 24, 2013
I'm amazed at the number of bad reviews this film has gotten. It is, for sure, not for everyone, but many of these reviews operate as if characters need to be likable in order for a film to be worth watching--an utterly bizarre and puritanical stance to take on a piece of art.

In any case, the acting in this film is superb. I mean really top notch. The writing is super sharp. And I got this kind of pleasure in watching just how bizarrely messed up this morally degraded bunch of idiots and sociopaths could be together.

Yes, there were a couple of shocking scenes, and everyone in the film is a moral monster, but it's all so well done: suspenseful, tense, full of menace, and funny in the bleakest possible way. If you're not super sensitive, I'd say ignore the bad reviews, and give it a shot--you may just think it's great.
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VINE VOICEon October 30, 2012
Few films contain such a palpable mix of dark comedy and brutality as William Friedkin's Killer Joe. The film reunites Friedkin with writer Tracy Letts, who last worked together on 2006's Bug. That film was a memorable little oddity that polarized audiences. If you have the stomach for it, Killer Joe is the superior film. For Friedkin, whose career was built on successes he had decades ago, it's a roaring comeback. For the star Matthew McConaughey, it's a career renaissance. In the last year, after serving time as the go-to guy for romantic comedies, McConaughey has begun taking on more daring roles and this is his most daring yet. It's also his best performance.

Most of Killer Joe takes place in a trailer park somewhere in Texas, home of the Smiths, a family of rednecks for whom the word `philistine' was almost certainly invented. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer whose mother has stolen his stash and left him desperately in debt to some guys who will kill him unless he comes up with $6000. Learning of his mother's $50,000 life insurance policy for which his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary, Chris approaches his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) about the prospect of having his mother killed. Not only would this solve Chris' problem, but it could lead to a big payday for Dottie, Ansel and his current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon). The person to do it is Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a Dallas detective who moonlights as a hitman. After they meet with Joe, he demands $25,000 in advance that Chris and Ansel are unable to provide. But Joe is willing to negotiate and will accept a retainer; Dottie.

There's no telling who is working against each other in the Smiths family. Although they lack any semblance of sagacity, their ignorance spawns both humor and horror. There's a sardonic glee in the way their story unfolds; we never know the length of stupidity they're capable of. The only redeeming character is Dottie, who seems mentally slower than her family (quite a feat), yet innocently more aware.

Letts' script is an adaption of his own play yet, unlike many stage adaptations, there's never a sense that this was made for the stage. One reason is Friedkin's fearless direction and the other is Caleb Deschanel's unflinching cinematography. Killer Joe was initially rated NC-17 (eventually surrendered) and it's hard to recall a film that so deserves it. This is a violent, bloody, misogynistic, and often sadistic film that basks in its lurid tendency to push the envelope. However, there's much more to Killer Joe than mere shock value. It's self-aware and crackles with great dialogue and memorable performances from everyone involved. It jumps right into the plot but slow burns with quiet intensity before erupting into total chaos, fueled mostly by McConaughey's menacing and frightening performance.

Before becoming a romantic-comedy heartthrob McConaughey appeared in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and for all that film's shortcomings, he did an exceptional job playing crazy. Even with that performance on his resumé, who could've foretold McConaughey could deliver such a memorable performance that allows him to exploit his natural charisma and charm to play completely against type and make Joe Cooper's ferocity and stark brutality all the more shocking? The performance is so unconventional and horrifying that it won't lead him to an Oscar, but few will argue what an Oscar-caliber performance this is. The other stand-out is Church, playing a character so stupid it takes the right kind of actor to keep it from bubbling over the top. Church's comically silly facial hair and his gift for deadpan make Ansel the comic relief of the film, but he keeps the character from seeming contrived or false within the film's context. He's a gifted actor who never fails to please and surprise.

The conclusion of Killer Joe features a long scene involving McConaughey, Church, Gershon, and a chicken leg that stands out as one of the most nail-bitingly intense scenes of any film this year. It's hard to anticipate a scene more startling or suspenseful. Here McConaughey reaches deep into his acting range to show the depths of Killer Joe's (both the movie and character) depravity; this is the moment where he totally sheds the rom-com image. If the Academy were more willing to award edgy, brave performances, this moment would almost certainly win him an Oscar. It's a scene that bristles with energy and no matter how chaotic and shocking it becomes, you can't look away.

Killer Joe is a film that gets in your head and stays there. It's a shocking and powerful film that makes a devastating impact. It's certainly entertaining, but make no mistake, it's not for the faint of heart and will disgust and revolt many an audience member. It's one of the most disturbing films of 2012. It's also one of the best.

GRADE: A-
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on January 8, 2013
This is one movie that I'm still trying to wrap my brain around. Talk about a dysfunctional family! This one is one for the books. Matthew McConaughey is great as Joe, the contract killer who also happens to be a Cop. Enter a young man who has run out of ways and ideas to get money he owes drug dealers. So he comes up with a scheme to kill his mother, the initial cause of his trouble, for the insurance money. But he needs help...he goes to his father who is more upset that he is not the benificiary to the insurance money even though he is married to someone else. The sister is the innocent in all but even she cannot claim full innocence since she goes along with the scheme mainly because her "slow" mental capacity is due to her mother. But they have no money up front to give Joe, so he takes her as a retainer fee. What evolves from there is truely one for the psychology books as they try to get the insurance money, save the sister from Joe and survive the hate they have for one another. McConaughey is great as Joe and a credit to his acting ability as he portrays a very cold,calculating and sick killer. His scene in the kitchen with the stepmother and fried chicken leg is intense and will leave you holding your breath especially as they begin turning on each other. This is not a movie for everyone as I believe one reviewer stated and definately not your typical murder for hire movie. There is nudity which could have been left out without harming the plot line but other than that, this is one movie that will probably not win awards but is worth seeing. The reason for the 4 stars and not 5 was the ending. It left me seriously cursing the director but does not detract from the movie itself, just leaves you to find your own conclusion.
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VINE VOICEon December 23, 2012
Chris has a problem: he's into some bad people for some big money. When he discovers his mother has a large life insurance policy in her name, he schemes with his deadbeat father and his stepmom to kill his mother. To do this, he turns to Joe Cooper. Joe's a police detective with an unusual side job: he's a contract killer. Joe only has two rules: if you get caught, you never heard of him; and you always pay up front. When Chris confesses a problem with the latter, Joe quickly finds a solution, taking Chris's child-like sister Dottie as a retainer.

KILLER JOE is dark. It is very dark. Nor is this apparent from the get-go; it slowly builds atmosphere, spiraling upward into a roaring crescendo of an ending. The film is anchored by the central performance from Matthew McConnaughey, who nails every line, every stare, every step he takes. McConnaughey plays off of his trademark charm; Joe is a nice guy...until he lets the act slip for a heartbeat, and you see the psychopath underneath. McConnaughey's performance is so strong and forceful, you have to take a step back and realize that he's not the only actor in the movie. In fact, the entire central cast is surprisingly good. Emile Hirsch, as Chris, embues an otherwise despicable character with a sense of conscience. Thomas Hayden Church provides much of the levity here; and yet, there's something unnerving about his performance, as though he's only a step or two away from becoming as crazy as Joe. Gina Gershon's performance is haunting and hilarious; the same goes for Juno Temple, as the innocent Dottie. Dottie threatens to be the least interesting character here; yet, thanks to Temple, Dottie comes across as a fully fleshed-out young woman. Her and McConnaughey's scenes, despite their rather blandness compared to some of the film's extremes, are among the hardest to watch.

KILLER JOE is not a film for the squeamish. It was filmed as NC-17, and it doesn't shy away from it. There's nudity and there's violence, all of it hard to watch. Tracy Letts' pitch-perfect screenplay (based on his own stage play) not only embraces its white-trash underpinnings, it dives in face-first. And yet, the film is actually a comedy--a dark comedy, to be certain, so dark that some of the humor isn't immediately apparent (McConnaughey, in the bonus features, admits to not "getting" it on his first read). One moment you're laughing; the next, you're trying not to wince. Throughout it all, your attention is riveted to the screen. KILLER JOE isn't for everyone, but if you can tough it out, it's a truly great film.
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on August 26, 2014
Holy mackerel, what did I just watch. I liked the characters, pretty much, I liked the shots if not the locations and the story was one of those things you might have heard from a buddy about someone he knows and feels bad for. It was an interesting though at times uncomfortable ride but McConaughey is charismatic no matter the role, at least in my opinion. I didn't feel connected enough to any of the characters to feel for them one way or another, their success felt a bit Meh in the end or if they got shot, fatal or otherwise I didn't feel the pain and wasn't moved to root for them one way or the other. I might have to go back and watch it again but I am not in any hurry.
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