What do you do if you're into the local crime boss for more money than you have any chance of getting because your mother stole the cocaine you were supposed to sell? I mean, we've all been there, right? Well, if you're name is Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) you put together a plan to have your mother murdered for her life insurance money by the local cop who moonlights as a hit-man, Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McCouaughey). Oh, and don't forget to include your dimwitted dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) who's divorced from your mom and re-married to local slut ball adulteress Sharla (Gina Gershon). Last but not least you'll have to get your mentally disturbed sister Dottie (Juno Temple) in on the plan, she is the beneficiary after all. Sound simple enough?
I suppose I should have been more prepared for what I was about to see when I sat down to watch this flick. When the director is William Freidken of The Exorcist fame and the film holds the rare NC-17 rating you are almost guaranteed to be disturbed by the time you leave. My impression from the news that was released and the trailers I saw was that Killer Joe was a dark comedy...actually, that's not just my impression, it's how it was marketed. If there was anything funny in this flick it must have sailed right over my head because I didn't see a thing. There were parts that, independently, could have been funny, like Dottie walking into her brother's room butt naked and breaking into a Kung Fu stance, but in the context of everything that was going on (not to mention her brother looking at her naked and not shying away) it all just seemed....well...wrong. The movie makes attempts at delivering plot twists but forgot to disguise obvious clues throughout. If I'm being completely honest it seemed as if the story, which could have been great, was only there to serve as filler between scenes designed to make any person not currently holding a life sentence in jail squirm to the point of feeling dirty just for watching it. I'm not kidding, you will want to take a long shower in boiling water when it's all over. The thing that really get's me is that there really wasn't a need for most of it. They showed Dottie's mental illness just fine without having her reveal that she thinks she's 11 in the middle of a sex scene. We understood that Killer Joe is an unstable sadist long before they show a disturbingly long and explicit scene involving forced fellatio and fried chicken. I'm not a fan of feeling uncomfortable in the theater, Hostel for instance was never my thing but at least Hostel type movies achieve their goal of disturbing the audience to the ends of an adrenaline rush. Killer Joe disturbs for no clear reason with no clear intent as far as upping the audiences enjoyment. The only purpose for including the harshest of scenes would be to see who in the audience enjoys it for the purpose of arresting them...if you like the way this flick disturbs you then it's only a matter of time before you graduate to crime.
On the other end of the spectrum the people playing out these scenes are phenomenal. Every single member of the principal cast is amazing. Perhaps the movie being so deeply disturbing is a testament to how well they were playing their roles. Thomas Haden Church's slow-witted Ansel is on the money and probably the most lovable character in the movie. He elicits more empathy from the audience than the entirety of the rest of the cast combined. Gina Gershon is flawless in her role; it's readily apparent during the movie's climax that she left nothing behind and gave everything to the role. Juno Temple was astonishing as Dottie, playing a mentally ill person is probably one of the hardest things for an actor to do…there’s such a thin line between believable and laughable with that kind of role. She is pitch perfect right down to her mannerisms, she has little ways of moving, talking, and smiling that really let you know that inside that adult body is a child. Emile Hirsch does a fine job but really has the least to do out of anyone in the movie…which is odd considering he’s the catalyst for the whole thing.
I’m not assigning fault to the actors, they did their jobs and did them well, but I really can’t think of anyone I would feel comfortable recommending this flick to. It’s a shame because acting of this caliber is something everyone should witness…I just don’t think you want to witness it like this.
1 out of 5 Guttenbergs (The cast gets 4.5 out of 5 Guttenbergs)