Killer Joe

Killer Joe

Things start off desperately in Killer Joe when local drug dealer Chris Smith (played by Emile Hirsch) finds himself owing six grand to his supplier. With no honest way of making that kind of money, he decides that the easiest and quickest solution is to hire a contract killer to off his mother for her insurance money. Enter Joe Cooper. Joe (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a detective, but for twenty-five grand he’ll take out whoever you want him to. Obviously Chris doesn’t have that kind of money, but he does have a younger sister, Dottie (played by Juno Temple), and she’s caught the eye of Joe. Joe agrees to do the hit only if he can have Dottie as a retainer.

How Dottie’s father, Ansel (played by Thomas Haden Church), and her stepmother, Sharla (played by Gina Gershon), react to this deal is pretty shocking. But then again these people aren’t the most upstanding individuals. I don’t like calling people trash, but they kind of are. And it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re broke or live in a trailer home. It has to do with the decisions they make. For instance just wait until you see how Sharla, chooses to answer the door when Chris comes knocking. It happens in the first few minutes of the movie and it’ll throw you for a quick little loop. Then wait until you see where Chris and Ansel choose to discuss the insurance scheme. These decisions tell you everything you need to know about the characters.

Chris, Sharla, Ansel and Dottie

And you get all this information within the first minutes of the film, which is pretty smart because it establishes the tone of the movie right away. It informs us that things are going to be graphic, twisted, and dark, so if you’re offended in the first five minutes, you might want to duck out because it won’t get any less offensive. There’s a reason for the NC-17 rating, which the movie was given for “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.”

But while the intent of the movie is to shock and titillate, it’s also to be humorous, and that too comes across quickly in the movie. The scene I mentioned with Sharla is shocking but also funny. The whole movie is very funny despite its darkness. In fact, a lot of the horrible things that happen evoked laughter from the audience. It’s just that the characters are so dumb and pathetic and the situations are so wild, almost to the point of silliness, that when bad things inevitably happen, instead of feeling for the characters you laugh at them. The movie knows it’s trashy and pulpy and takes pleasure in being those things. Just look at the movie poster.


Matthew McConaughey in particular seemed like he was having a great time portraying Killer Joe. He got to play it calm and collected in some scenes and then go nuts in others, all the while being frightening as hell. It’s probably the darkest we’ve ever seen him go with a character, and it works so well for him. I think this will have a lot of people seeing him in a new way. It sure did for one person on the IMDB message boards who was so disgusted by this movie that he/she (you can never really discern gender based on screen names) vowed never to watch another McConaughey movie again. Whether that’s good or bad, it just goes to show the visceral impact this movie has. I for one would love to see McConaughey take on more interesting roles like this.

Killer Joe Cooper

The rest of the cast was good as well. Emile Hirsch, who you’ve seen in Lords of Dogtown, Into the Wild, and Speed Racer to name a few, usually comes across as intelligent and thoughtful in his roles, so it was great seeing him play a dumb guy who thinks he’s smart. His ignorance is the catalyst for the entire story, and almost everything that goes wrong is his fault. But his ego would never let him admit that. His love for his sister is probably the sweetest part of the movie, but even that borders on creepy at times, which is part of the beauty of this movie. Everything is twisted!

Gina Gershon was also good, particularly in the climax of the movie. See, she’s got a secret that Killer Joe wants to know, and she knows he’s trying to work it out of her. She’s so afraid and she tries to outsmart him, but we know which one of them is smarter. The scene is tense as hell, with her fear and Joe’s volatility working together to ratchet up the tension bit by bit until the inevitable explosion. And what happens then will definitely shock you.

As Dottie, Juno Temple is the object of Joe’s affections, and there would be no movie without her, but I found her character to be the weakest part. I don’t think it’s Juno’s fault. Part of reason is just that the other cast members give such memorable performances, and their characters are much more interesting, that her personal story gets forgotten. The action of the movie overpowers her  young, spacey character, until the very end when she becomes a lot more interesting.


And now for possibly my favorite part of the Killer Joe: Thomas Haden Church. He steals the movie. If you’ve seen Wings you know he’s capable of playing the dumb guy, but he takes dumb to a whole new level in this movie. And it’s hilarious! At one point he says something along the lines of “I’m never aware of what’s going on,” and you know that is possibly the truest thing that’s been said in this movie, maybe in the history of movies. I could rewatch the movie just for Church’s scenes alone, especially the scene in the insurance agent’s office.  Or the final scene where he does something so unexpected and so funny. He’s probably the worst father we’ve ever seen in a movie. I love it.


Obviously I’m a fan of this movie. I’d recommend it to those that enjoy gritty, pulpy films. This movie is getting a lot of comparisons to Tarantino and Coen Brothers films, which I can understand. I’d say that if you were a fan of the recent movies Drive or The Skin I Live In, you’ll like this one a lot. It’s a crazy ride, but aren’t those often the most fun to take?


Killer Joe
Director: William Friedkin (The French ConnectionThe ExorcistBug)
Writers: Tracy Letts (Bug)

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