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Whenever the United States actually releases a movie rated NC-17, we should get very, VERY excited. Many films are forced into an R rating in order to please as wide of an audience as possible – some on the recent list include 2010’s “Blue Valentine” and 2008’s “Zack & Miri Make A Porno” – but director William Friedkin did not hold back at all with his newest film, “Killer Joe.” This sick and sadistic flick is surely going to offend a lot of people, and any true fans of Friedkin’s previous work (or anyone who just likes barbarous motion pictures in general) are going to find a lot of awesomeness within this hillbilly comedy gone disturbingly wrong.
Friedkin tells the story of a demented and dimwitted father and son duo of Ansel and Chris Smith (Thomas Haden Church and Emile Hirsch) who, upon learning that their mother has taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy which goes directly to their daughter/sister Dottie (Juno Temple) if she happens to pass away, decide to plot to kill her to reap the fiscal benefits. They subsequently hire Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to finish the job for them and make them both rich men.
Killer Joe is no ordinary killer; he’s an irrational sexual deviant police officer who, when money can’t be offered to him, will work for retainers in the form of virgin girls. If the storyline sounds deranged to you, it’s because it genuinely is. 74 year-old William Friedkin’s career has been long and illustrious, starting with his two most well known films in “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection” from the early 1970’s. “Killer Joe” resembles much of Friedkin’s work from both the 1970’s and 1980’s, especially his 1985 masterpiece “To Live And Die In L.A.” in terms of its graphic brutality.
More than anything else, though, “Killer Joe” tries and ultimately succeeds in being Tarantinian. From the slowly unfolding dialogue that leaves you at the edge of your seat until the epic climax with which this film ends, Friedkin is one of exceptionally few directors to understand the realism that must go into the writing for a story like this to have the desired effect upon the audience. He even throws in the trunk-opening shot featured in every Tarantino movie, and the Texas setting even resembles the first half of “Death Proof.”
Friedkin’s characters are certainly Tarantinian as well: the Smiths represent those selectively exploited, troublingly uneducated and downright stupid people whom still inhabit this nation but seem like myths to the generally educated urban population. Hirsch and Haden Church’s roles bear a strong resemblance to the stupidity of Louis (De Niro) from “Jackie Brown.” All-too-young-looking Juno Temple is magnificent and Lolita-like as Dottie, and may make viewers question their eyes when trying to figure out if a girl is of legal consent (Juno is 23 but she looks 16; oh, the pervertedly deceiving ways of Hollywood make-up). All of the acting is superb, from top to bottom, especially Matthew McConaughey.
The big question that must be brought up in regards to “Killer Joe” certainly is when the @#$% did Matthew McConaughey become such an amazing actor? Seriously though – if you ONLY saw movies made post-“The Lincoln Lawyer,” you’d think this guy was a legitimate American legend – when in reality he’s the same man who starred in “We Are Marshall” and “The Wedding Planner.” Killer Joe himself predominantly resembles Robert Mitchum’s deceitful character from the 1955 movie “The Night Of The Hunter” – and Friedkin’s film might be just as frightening as that aforementioned masterpiece.
Younger directors should admire and even try to mimic the shameless authority in which William Friedkin presents us the story of “Killer Joe” in order to make their films more brazen and audacious. This Southern Gothic story should not be taken lightly by any standards, because it is sure to leave some people in utter shock as they depart from the theater they see it in.
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