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Killer Joe


This article was published October 5, 2012 at 1:58 a.m.


Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe

— Over the years, there’s been a healthy debate as to the merits of Matthew McConaughey - Can he act? Does he have any kind of range? Is he some kind of star? Killer Joe, William Friedkin’s lurid black comedy, based on the play by Tracy Letts, answers at least the latter of those questions pretty succinctly. A star could never take the kind of execrable, twisted role that McConaughey has done here and expect to get away with it. In his own mind, at least, the debate appears to be settled.

He plays the titular “Killer” Joe Cooper, a cop who conveniently does hit-jobs on the side for $25,000 a pop. He’s hired by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), an insufferable, scrawny low-life who enlists the aid of his clueless, deadwood father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to help hatch a plot to kill Ansel’s ex-wife - Chris’ own mother - in order to collect on the insurance money she supposedly has left to her daughter, the sweetly innocent and vulnerable Dottie (Juno Temple).

Complicating matters, without the money to pay Joe upfront, Chris and Ansel have to put up Dottie as a kind of collateral, allowing the clearly psychotic man access to the one undamaged and innocent thing in their collective lives. Naturally, things go horrifically wrong in many myriad ways, not helped in the least by Ansel’s current wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon), who has her own scheme in mind.

The film, which could be classified as “depraved pulp” - a meeting of Jim Thompson and David Lynch at the nearly forgotten outhouse behind the estate of Tennessee Williams (Dottie’s distracted innocence seems taken directly from Laura Wingfield) - makes no excuses for its explicit excursions and excesses. By the halfway point, no fewer than three major characters have been fully nude on screen.

But even by that tenuous standard, the now infamous fried chicken scene, in which Joe forces Sharla to perform a sexually suggestive act on a leg from a KFC bucket, will strain your ability to appreciate any of the other, less brutal sequences. Indeed, the scene - among other depravities - helped to earn the film a rare NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, which should keep its potential audience down to a minimum.

Frankly, with a film as bleak and comically demented as this one, that’s probably the way it should be. Unafraid to capitalize on the outrage the scene caused festival goers across the country,the filmmakers have actually used a strategically shaped piece of fried chicken as the centerpiece of their movie poster.

Which brings us back to McConaughey. Long a staple of dead-end rom-coms, with this film and his equally revealing turn in Magic Mike, the man has determined that the world needs to see much more of his bare buttocks, and a good deal more of the kind of darkly comic roles of which he’s capable. Good for him, I suppose, though after seeing him here, you might not be so quick to engage with him if you spot him at your local Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Killer Joe Grade: 82 Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon Director: William Friedkin Rating: NC-17 Running time: 102 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 10/05/2012

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