It takes a stomach of iron to sit through a movie as gruesome as Killer Joe, but for those who can handle
the brutality, there are rewards galore.
Emile Hirsch stars as Chris, a consistent screw-up mired in gambling
debt. One day he hears his mom's got a $50,000 life insurance policy and his
pure-hearted sister Dottie (Juno Temple) will be the beneficiary. So he plans
to hire a hitman to snuff her out, hoping he'll accept payment after the fact,
splitting the money with his dad (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmom (Gina
But the killer he hires makes no compromises. He's Killer Joe, a Dallas
police detective. He's a charmer whose smooth exterior masks a remorseless
heart (which I suppose is good if you're looking for someone to kill your mom).
Since he refuses to get paid after he completes his task, he takes Dottie as
collateral in one of many uncomfortable scenes.
Gershon plays Charla"”perhaps the trashiest of white-trash names"”a
classless femme fatale who answers the door without any pants on, then defends it
stating, "I didn't know it was you." She's married to Ansel (Church), possibly
the dumbest and most gullible character in movie history. But Church adds some
shading to him. He's less a stupid sheep and more a person who just wants to be
on the winning side for once.
Killer Joe will most likely
remind you of a Coen Brothers' movie. Like many of them, the characters are
schmucks who think they can get away with a crime and suffer the consequences
for their hubris. But the Coens are often restrained, especially in their
portrayal of violence. Killer Joe
makes no such attempt. It goes full tilt all the time. It's violent and sexual
(though not exactly sexy) and full of sordid schemers.
It earns its NC-17 for never shying away from a fight or a sex scene,
no matter how uncomfortable it might make the audience. But it's never just for
shock value's sake. The brutality and brazenness are all in service of getting
under the skin of these characters, all amoral hicks looking to get out of the
trailer park, no matter who gets left behind.
Lest I get bogged down in the lurid details, it should be noted that Killer Joe, based on Tracy Letts' first
play, is often hilarious. It's also an interesting but unflattering portrait of
life in the South. I really enjoyed one scene in particular when the
well-dressed mob boss asks a future victim about his love life right before he
instructs two bikers to beat the crap out of him. Southern hospitality is alive
and well, even among criminals.
Many moviegoers will be turned off by the horrors depicted in Killer Joe. But for fans of Friedkin's
unrelenting work and those who can handle this, it's a singular movie-going
experience. You won't see anything else like it this year.