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Killer Joe - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Killer Joe
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: A-

Matthew McConaughey is on a roll this year. He disappears into his part as a lawyer in Bernie; he shows off killer abs in Magic Mike, and now shows killer instincts in Killer Joe.

And, as the title suggests, that's meant to be taken literally. Killer Joe is rated NC-17, a rare distinction that usually indicates graphic sex or graphic violence. This movie perhaps doesn't have quite as much of either as you might expect -- but it has just enough of a unique mix of both to justify the rating.

McConaughey, as the title character, is adept at eliciting ambivalence regarding whether he should be considered a hero or a villain. When it all comes down to it, every character in this movie is a villain. Either that or they're idiots. Either way, it's fantastically cast with actors who do stellar jobs of portraying one or the other.

Could Dottie (Juno Temple), the teenage girl, be the one good guy? Or the victim, at least? By the end, you're not quite sure even with her. We get a deliciously open-ended ending, the kind that can totally derail a movie when in the wrong hands. William Friedkin directs with very capable hands. He never makes it clear, but I had a sneaking suspicion that Dotty had a lot more gears running in her head than any of the others gave her credit for.

And with the exception of Joe, the others are all made up of her immediate family, made up of lowlife Dallas, Texas rednecks: Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) can barely comprehend everything going on around him; his wife (and Dottie's stepmother) Sharla (Gina Gershon) is in over her head with her schemes; and most importantly, Dottie's brother Chris (Emile Hirsch) is the self-deluded mastermind of a plot doomed to crumble from the start. Chris owes $6000 to some people who will kill him if he doesn't pay up, and his brilliant scheme is to have his mother murdered so he can collect the life insurance money.

Said mother only ever shows up on screen as a dead body. This is just one of the many elements of Tracy Letts's script -- adapted from his own play -- that are as fun as they are dark. This is a story that keeps going in unexpected directions, usually down twisted paths with occasional bursts of humor.

And then there's Rex, who also plays a pivotal role, as the guy Chris and Dottie's mom is currently with. We only ever see him from behind, standing next to his car. You'll have to see the movie to find out how this is actually interesting. You'll just have to take my word for it!

And Joe gets sucked into this hicks-functional family after being hired to do the deed on Mom. He wants his money up front, but Dottie is the life insurance beneficiary and can only get it once Mom is dead. Dottie is weirdly chipper and spirited through most of the movie, even when she declares it's a good idea to have the woman killed. She hardly resists when Joe suggests Chris offer her as "a retainer" until he can get his money.

There's really no question that Joe is a bad, bad man. McConaughey still makes him likable. He's got an undeniable charm and charisma, even when in the middle of beating the shit out of people, or making a woman simulate fellatio on a chicken leg. The chicken leg is perhaps an exception but he usually acts like a Southern gentleman.

Killer Joe is the most perverse love story to come along in recent memory. It all revolves around a romance between Joe and Dottie, which buds amidst morons doing terrible things. Joe is the one who isn't a moron, but he's maybe not as in control as we -- and he -- thought.

This movie certainly isn't for everyone. But for what it is, it works remarkably well. Few movies can mix crime thriller with dark comedy so seamlessly. In between the horrifying scenes, I got several good laughs out of it. Friedkin wants to put you on edge, and with me at least, he succeeded. Joe made me nervous, but in a way that commands attention. And when a movie is impossible to look away from, it's doing its job right.

Emile Hirsch and Matthew McConaughey square off in KILLER JOE.

Overall: B+
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