Under the Radar?: “Killer Joe”


Last summer, “Killer Joe” was released into 75 theaters nationwide and grossed less than $2 million. Directed by Academy Award winner William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”, “The French Connection”), and starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Hayden Church, “Killer Joe” tells the story of a trailer trash family that puts together a poorly thought out plan to hire a hitman, leading to unfortunate consequences.

Full of violence, depravity and brutality, “Killer Joe” is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a dark little movie with a side of WTF, “Killer Joe” may be just the pic for you.

When Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in trouble with loan sharks, he stumbles upon a dangerous, evil way to get clear of all his money issues. He decides to hire a hit man to kill his mother for the insurance money. It’s not that simple, of course, for one thing he’s not even the beneficiary. And so, he brings his father (who is divorced and remarried) and his developmentally challenged sister in on the plan. His sister (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary of the policy, so she would need to know in order to split the proceeds once the deed was done. His father (Thomas Hayden Church) tells his current wife (Gina Gershen) as well, so the entire trailer park family is in on the plan.

The plan is to hire a dirty cop (Matthew McConaughey) named Joe Cooper, who secretly carries out contract killings. Joe is a focused, coiled, dangerous man. He’ll take the job, but he wants payment up front. The problem is that the family has no money. The crime, the killing, is monetarily motivated. So Joe insists on a retainer.

He wants Chris’ sister, Dottie.

Dottie is a simple but sweet, good looking young girl. She suffers from a degree of mild retardation that may or may not be related to abuse she suffered as a child. Joe meets her and falls for her, but he’s also in a position of power over the family. He abuses that power by making them agree to allow him to have his way with Dottie as a down payment on the crime.

Of course things don’t go exactly as planned, and eventually this low class family is forced to face the consequences of their actions… and deal with the fact that a dangerous killer is now involved with their vulnerable sister/daughter.

“Killer Joe” is certainly not a movie for the squeamish. At the highest level, it’s a film about desperate, stupid trailer trash doing something very evil in order to gain a marginal sum of money. Joe himself is a cold blooded killer, but he’s also a sexual predator. And a bit of deviant one at that (there were times when this character reminded me of Hopper’s Frank Booth from “Blue Velvet”). When things go sour, he becomes very violent, and the consequences are shown quite graphically.

The acting, characters and plot, of the film, however, make it worth wading through some of the difficult to watch moments. McConaughey is fantastic in the lead here. He’s evil, intelligent and manipulative. You get the feeling that there’s ice water in his veins. Hirsch, Church and Gershon are each varying degrees of dumb and greedy (a deadly combination), to the point where its occasionally painful to watch as they plot and plan. Juno Temple is fantastic as the sweet simpleton who isn’t even aware of her sexual presence. Together they all put on a painful play… and the dark plot, with occasional twists helps keep you hooked in to watching it.

“Killer Joe” should come with a warning label. But for those who like their films disturbing and dark, it’s a potent dosage of sketchy characters involved in a dangerous situation.


Daniel Fogarty


66 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Killer Joe”

  1. Excellent film. Even though I only gave it a 3/5, that’s more down to the repeat viewing factor. I can’t see myself wanting to see this again. It’s just that sort of film.

    It’s funny – it got a much wider release over here. And released months ahead of the States. Wonder why that was.

    • I dont know… I cant explain that global release schedule for the life of me. Maybe it underperformed there or something, so they revisied their expectations over here? Not sure. I do know it didn’t make a lot of money even if you take international grosses into consideration. 😦

      Meanwhile, though, I could watch it again, but its nothing I’d watch frequently. Youre definitely right on that count. 😉

      • I remember it being marketed as a black comedy over here. Sure it was dark and often times a little bit funny. But don’t think I’d call this a black comedy! A little too dark for that.

        Global release schedule can just go suck it.

      • Good grief! LOL. I didnt think there was a lot of comedy involved in there, although maybe laughing is the only way to get through the chicken scene but wow… it is NOT a comedy, of any sorts! LOL

  2. def not one for the faint or easily offended/disturbed.

    rather dark. both McConaughey and Thomas Haden Church impressed me though.

    didn’t really like how it just ended, but I don’t know how else they should’ve. I got to the end and was just hoping that was all and that it wouldn’t continue. ha. the movie is dark, gruesome, but also, I saw it to have a flair of reality as I believed the people and am sure of the existence of people like that.

    won’t watch it again, but can’t knock what you say about it either. daringly impressive

  3. Nice review. With Killer Joe I was at first like WTF?! happened. Its story is not really my cup of tea though, has nothing to do with the disturbing scenes, but has everything to do with the plot composition.

    • I thought the plot was kind of tight, Niejan. I liked how the initial plan got deeper the more they thought it out and looked into it. It was as if there was another level to it when you didn’t expect it.

      But Joe don’t play. LOL! 😀

  4. McConaughey takes this movie over and makes it his bitch. Everybody else is good, but he’s the one who really steals the show and I think at least deserved some sort of recognition for his work here. Regardless, though, it’s a great thing to see the guy back and taking roles that kick as much ass as we knew he always could. Good review Fogs.

    • Yeah, he was definitely a dangerous, malicious character for a change wasn’t he? He was scary good at it too. 😮

      I’ve seen his name bandied about in some of the critics awards and such, which I’m sure he was happy with. He had a hell of a year last year!

  5. “It’s one of the great tragedies of our contemporary life in America, that families fall apart. Almost everybody has that in common.”
    Sam Shepard said that. His great plays of Western families gone bad started a tradition picked up by the likes of the Coen brothers in “Blood Simple”. “Killer Joe” is a crude foray into this genre that amounts to bloodsport for the modern audience jaded by too much violence. Every manner of abuse is thrown at the women in this film, physical, verbal, sexual, without justification. By condoning it, it’s just asking for more of the same. Gratuitous violence isn’t cinema, it’s porn!

    • Eh, write a letter to Gloria Steinem.

      There are perhaps themes to be delved into along the lines of sexuality and male female relationship roles. I did find a hint at the end that the film might have actually been trying to “say” something, but I’m not interested enough in this one to delve.

      I enjoyed it for what it was… a twisted little thriller.

    • Well… that’s up to you. I know I dont regret my $5 investment.

      Meanwhile it’s not totally BV, but there was one scene in particular that’s really demented and I had to think of Frank Booth. LOL

      You’ll see.

  6. Hell yeah. Glad you looked this one up after all. Great call on the Frank Booth comparison — that didn’t cross my mind, but I can totally see it. McConaughey had a lot of strong performances last year, but this one is my favorite. Good stuff!

    • Thanks E. Ot did take me awhile to get around to it… It never actually made theatres near me, and still hasn’t hit cable, so I had to PPV it after seeing it hit so many top ten lists, you know?

      As far as that Booth thing, that was all I could think during the now infamous KFC scene, LOL

  7. Sick and twisted just the way I like it! Well worth the watch for McConaughey. Glad to see Friedkin back in action, he has not softened up one bit lol.

    • Yeah, it was nice to see Friedkin have a win, even if it’s a kind of sick lil win, LOL.

      McConaughey was sick, wasn’t he? Definitely a bad ass character with a sick side… Not that fun, funny persona we’re used to seeing!

    • HAHAAA! The blinding, burning that that movie caused to the eyes has long been forgotten. Funny, I was just editing my weekly podcast, where this week that film and the pool scene got a little discussion. 😀 What a ridiculous flick.

  8. Killer Joe is awesome. I have it on my top 10 list on MILF. McConaughey is actually having a resurgence in my eyes after me not caring about him for the past decade or so. I need to see The Paperboy soon, and Mud looks good, too.

    Not sure I ever want K Fried C ever again.

    • You know whats funny? I swear, I watched this movie right before I was gonna eat supper. So I was hungry. And I saw the KFC and I was like oooh. KFC, havent had that in SO long.

      And by the end of it, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever eat KFC ever again. LOL

      McConaughey definitely had a great year. I dont blame the Paperboy on him, but that movie’s a mess. 😦

      • I’ve heard mixed things about The Paperboy, so I shall Redbox that shit and find out.

        But as for Killer Joe, I also didn’t mind the first shot of Gina Gershon, even if it’s the white trash version of her. And I’ll be looking out for Juno Temple from now on, too.

      • Lol. Good to know.

        Yeah, the Paperboy is all over the place, but I guess it’s worth checking out for some of the performances. You might like it, I found some folks who dug it.

  9. This was definitely an interesting one. I think more than anything, McConaughy was definitely overlooked, since he killed it here (hell, he was awesome in everything this year). But what stuck out most for me was just how badly I was craving chicken afterwards, lol.

    • See my last reply, above. LOL. I started out that scene hungry for KFC. LOL 😮

      McConaughey was awesome last year. I still prefer Magic Mike, where he absolutely cracked me up as a strip club owner. That was hysterical. I’ll never hear “Calling Dr Love” the same way again. 😀

  10. Definitely one of those movie that disturbs but intrigues you so you can’t stop watching. This did not make my list of top 10 movies of 2012 but was a notable mention. Easily one of my three favorite McConaughey next to Lincoln Lawyer and Frailty. But he was really good because of the awesome supporting cast especially Church. Guy was hysterical. Nice review!

    • What??? No Wooderson? 😀 LOL

      He was excellent here, and you’re right, Church was funny too. I laughed out loud when that sleeve thing happened, that was funny stuff. 😀

      McConaughey’s been on quite a roll of late, let’s hope he keeps it up!

    • LOL. I dont even think KFC does that anymore…Right? They officially went to KFC in order to drop the “Fried”, cause frying is bad… except they still serve the same fried chicken they always have? 😀

      God bless America, I do love it so. 😀

  11. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one Fogs. One of the highlights from last year and earned a very respectable 4.5 rating from me. I loved it and a big chunk of that was down to McConaughey’s superb turn.

    • Oh yeah, I remember you saying it was one of your favorites, and wondering if that meant you were sick or something. I can tell you now… yes, it does. LOL! 😀

      I did like it though, for the most part. I’m flip flopping on the whole chicken thing. Sometimes I think it was complately unneccessary and the film would have been a tighter thriller without it, other times I think that that’s the heart of the movie, LOL

      • LOL. I did wonder that I’d been having problems mentally. 😉

        I think the heart is in the chicken. 😉 It sums up (visually) the depravity of Joe. The others are none too likeable but even they are shocked at his actions. Plus, I enjoy material that shocks an audience. Love it man. LOL

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