Beware: The new film, “Killer Joe,” is rated NC-17 — and deservedly so. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it’s rife with great performances, impeccably directed and slickly scripted. In an homage to film noir, Oscar winning director William Friedkin (“The French Connection”) takes audiences on a wicked ride through the territories of human depravity.
Matthew McConaughey, in his best performance ever, plays Joe Cooper, a virtue-less cop who moonlights as a hit man. Chris (Emile Hirsch), a druggie whose alcoholic mother stole his cocaine, solicits Cooper’s services because Chris is now being chased by thugs for the $6,000 he owes them. Chris wants Joe to whack his mom for a $50,000 life-insurance policy that names his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), as sole beneficiary. The whole family, including his dad (Thomas Hayden Church), skanky stepmom (Gina Gershon) and even Dottie think it’s a great idea.
The big hitch is that Joe requires a retainer of $25,000. The family doesn’t have any cash on-hand, and Joe suggests that Dottie will do for payment. Joe gains possession of Dottie’s virginity in a sexually twisted contract. Did I mention that these people live in a decrepit trailer with an incessantly barking pit bull chained to the fence? To call them “white trash” would be a compliment.
“Killer Joe” is a film full of nitwits who are so despicable that it borders on humorous. Friedkin carefully balances that dichotomy so it never slips into “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” genre. In fact, Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”), who also authored the stage play, “Killer Joe,” penned the witty and salacious script. This is Friedkin’s and Letts’ second collaboration, the first being the underrated “Bug,” another twisted, yet irresistible, film.
McConaughey deserves an Oscar nod for his performance as the super-sleazy, sexy sociopath. In one particular outstanding scene, Joe seduces Dottie over dinner in the trailer. It’s simultaneously chilling and mesmerizing, perfectly executed. But, alas, The Academy frowns on NC-17 rated films, and Mr. McConaughey will most likely not be on its short list.
At age 76, Friedkin is on top of his game directing “Killer Joe.” But this uncomfortable film is not for the squeamish (or fried chicken-lovers). The movie poster outside of the theater reads: “A Totally Twisted Deep Fried Texas Redneck Trailer Park Murder Story.” And that it is.
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