Get out your Kentucky Fried Chicken, we're reviewing Killer Joe! No it...it makes sense in the movie. Kind of.
When Chris(Emile Hirsch) needs to pay a debt to a gangster fast, he hatches a scheme with his father, Ansel(Thomas Haden Church) and sister Dottie(Juno Temple) to kill their dead-beat mother for the insurance money. They hire a professional killer, Joe(Matthew McConaughey), to do the job.
I guess this is the week for difficult disturbing movies, because Killer Joe is also a difficult disturbing movie. I mean, it's a pretty good southern-fried noir(a sub-genre I may or may not have just made up, pertaining to noirs taking place in the deep south), but it's hard to watch at times. It's an unsettling crime drama. It was originally given an NC-17 rating for the theatrical release, then edited down to an R for the DVD(I saw the DVD version, so I have to wonder what they took out), and brother can you see why. If you are at all put off by lots of nudity or graphic violence, this is not the movie for you.
There's a certain Tarantino value to it, as there's a lot of dialogue and bits here and there of graphic action, but thankfully it's not a complete ripoff like some other lesser movies I know. Honestly, the dialogue and atmosphere is really spot on for a noir. It has that really dark feel; that this is taking place in one of the lowest settings and that all of these characters are tainted. Chris is a constant screw-up, making things worse through good intentions. His father Ansel is dumb and a bit of a drunk, but he wants to make good for his family. Joe is a stone-cold killer and borderline sociopath, but he's got a set of rules and he's not unreasonable. Even Dottie, arguably the most innocent character, isn't completely clean as she agrees to go along with the murderous deed.
It's also quite funny at times, mostly from the ridiculous circumstances brought on by the desperate characters. It's silly how wrong it is and how fucked-up things get. Probably the funniest is Ansel, played by a hapless Church, who never knows what's going on and is always in a state of utter confusion. Honestly the cast is great, and it's brimming with excellent performances, the best of all has to be McConaughey. It's frightening how well he can play a psycho. There's also Juno Temple who plays Dottie as if she's just a tad off, and Gina Gershon, playing the spiteful conniving step-mother, who's no stranger to great noir roles. I usually love Emile Hirsch in anything he does(*cough cough Speed Racer cough*) and here is no different, as you really feel for Chris at his most desperate.
And then there's all the violence. It can get really graphic. Really really unsettlingly graphic. There's sex, and nudity, and brutallity against women, and gunshots and people getting the shit kicked out of them, and ladies bush right in your face and some weird sex scenes involving fried chicken. No really. It's very brutal. Some of it is good, but all of it is unsettling, and I would not blame you for turning off if this is not your thing.
But, as a noir, it is quite good. The dialogue is especially well-written and the story is nonsensical in the depressing sort of way. Every good noir is about a character having to choose between two extremely shitty choices. These people are on the lowest rung of the ladder, and they have the choice of either staying in their poor little lives and never amounting to anything, or doing something terrible and maybe, just maybe having a good chance of getting out of it. That's a great little piece of noir. And the story has enough twists and turns to keep you wondering what will happen next, leading up to fulfilling ambiguous ending. It's strange, but it's sometimes satisfying in a noir when the end is unsatisfying.
It's very graphic and brutal, but it's a nice little southern-fried noir with great performances and silly moments. It's weird enough that I'd recommend a watch, but not so weird you'd want to avoid it. Mostly.
THE GOOD: Interesting story, good characters, brutal action, great acting and performances,
THE BAD: Very brutal unsettling action may turn some off, along with the nudity and sex scenes
THE VERDICT: $$$$ Y'know what, unless you are really opposed to the ol' ultraviolence(and if you are, you've probably stopped reading by now), I'd recommend seeing it, just to see how crazy it all gets. Y'know, f you're one of those people into southern noir and brutal violence and crazy McConaughey. It's just that kind of off-putting.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Winter's Bone, Justified(TV series), Lawless, Terriers
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Chris is in some trouble, and the gangster he owes money too, Digger, catches up with him. They have a pretty polite conversation about each other's family, even cracking jokes with each other. Then Digger plainly explains he's going to have his guys beat the shit out of Chris, and procedes to do so. It's a funny brutal bit of juxtaposition.