Killer Joe (2012)
Some envelopes just shouldn’t get pushed.
Killer Joe is about a white trash kid from a trailer park in Texas who finds himself $6,000 in debt after his mom steals his coke to fix up her truck. Naturally, he comes up with a plan to off his n0-good mama so he can cash in on her life insurance policy and pay off his dealer in turn. Now, since he’s new to this whole matricide thing, he gets his dad, sister, and step-mom to join in on the fun. But since they’re new to the whole matricide thing too, they request the services of “Killer” Joe: a local cop who does some – you guessed it! – contract killin’ on the side. Eventually, Joe obliges them with his expertise, but being that they’re so poor they can’t even pay attention, he decides to take the kid’s sister as his retainer of sorts. While the kid isn’t too keen on this agreement, he’s not too keen on being dead either. So with time running out and options running low, the kid hounds Joe to get on with his mom while Joe’s busy getting on with his retainer.
Oh, Texas. You so crazy.
Not that it warrants clarifying, but this here movie is pretty effed up. Like, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead-effed up. Granted, it’s a lot funnier and a lot more entertaining than it sounds, but “pretty effed up” has been the go-to answer each time I was asked, “How was the movie?” And the more time I’ve had to think about it, the more I’m not really sure what compelled me to see this Southern fried sick puppy over all the other fine options at my disposal. I mean, I’ve got all kinds of time for Thomas Haden Church, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Matthew McConaughey, but Emile Hirsch and Gina Gershon are what you’d call “red flags.” That, and something about the poster and title just weren’t doing it for me. As a proud advocate of not judging books by their covers, you can color me hypocritical, but when you’ve got two hours to kill and a ten spot in your pocket, why not go for the NC-17 movie?
And since that’s always the million dollar question with these things, let’s just start with the obvious: does Killer Joe deserve its NC-17 rating?
As idiotic as the MPAA’s ratings system is and as much as I want to take the side of the censored…the rating’s pretty accurate. Up until the last 15 minutes or so, it’s actually more like a rock-solid R. Lots of nudity, lots of bad words, plus all that noise about killin’ parents and crooked cops sleeping with girls who aren’t “all there.” Don’t bring the kids, but nothing mom and dad can’t handle. But there is those last 15 minutes, and those right there are a deal breaker. After all the NC-17 nonsense with Blue Valentine two years ago, I’ve always thought the rating was a bunch of hooey caused by rich folks who have nightmares about teenagers seeing private parts. But this is no Blue Valentine. Blue Valentine‘s about as racy as the Car Bears compared to this.
Folks, sometimes even the prudest of prudes get it right.
As for those last 15 minutes, I’ll get to them in a bit, but the second most important thing to know about Killer Joe is that during that whole time when it was still rated R, it was cruising at a solid 7. As usual, Emile Hirsch did nothing for me as our coke-pusher, Chris; and the same unfortunately goes for Gina Gershon as his step-mom. But also as usual, Thomas Haden Church is a total trip as Chris’ uber-gullible, simple-minded dad; Juno Temple – who I’ve never seen before – is pretty darn good as Chris’ sister who can’t keep her damn clothes on; and it’s also one more glaring reason why Matthew McConaughey needs to quit doing rom-coms.
As you can probably guess from the pictures, McConaughey plays “Killer” Joe. Aside from his instantly eerie Johnny Cash getup, he does a great job of confirming our suspicions about Joe by not doing anything all that blunt to get him there. It’s the grisly stories he tells over morning coffee without batting an eyelash, the level-headed manner he keeps when everyone around him’s in dire straits, the feeling that there’s an evil behind those shades, an evil that’s just waiting to boil over. You watch McConaughey as Joe, and you don’t need a body to know his nickname was earned. It’s a really good, subtle performance from a guy who keeps letting himself get typecast in shit that’s way, way underneath him. Call me crazy, but just you watch, this year’s gonna be a good one for old Wooderson.
And the script’s not too shabby either. Tracy Letts throws some great one-liners in here and has a real knack for getting laughs out of the royally grim circumstances he creates. Not much going on in the way of plot as it takes these characters a really long time to start doing something other than what they were doing to begin with, but whatever, it’s fun to just watch them do as they do. The only thing that bugged me was that, since it’s adapted from the stage, that’s exactly how it ends up coming across. Characters don’t just have everyday conversations with each other, they speak in stories. Like if you went up to your buddy at the bar and said, “Hiya, Phil! Whatcha’ drinkin?,” only to have Phil respond, “You remember the old railroad down by the river? Johnny and I used to love that old railroad. One time, back when we was little, we almost died on those there tracks. Did I ever tell you that story? Well, it was the end of summer. That’s right, I remember it now. Mama done told us to stay away from those tracks. No, wait. Maybe it was August…”
You get the idea. It’s all in the way these people talk to each other and it’s like that from one scene to the next. Not the worst thing in the world and it’s not poorly written by any means, it’s just that it all feels more like a well-filmed Broadway production than a decently-filmed movie. Personal preference: I’d go for the latter.
So that’s all well and good for the most part, but then there’s this scene in the last 15 minutes that I keep alluding to…
Since I’m not in the business of spoiling movies, I can’t get specific about what happens in the said scene – which is convenient because I wouldn’t want to anyway. But just to give you an idea of what happens, try imagining an unhappy medium between The Killer Inside Me and Irreversible. Not gonna be the guy who recommends two of the most misogynistic movies of all-time just to prove a point, so if you haven’t seen ‘em, you’re just gonna have to trust me on this one. It’s not so much that the scene comes out of nowhere, it’s just hard to justify such brutal violence towards women as anything but unnecessary and despicable. Seriously, if you’re looking for a great way to ruin a movie in one fell swoop, beat up on a girl or worse. As you can see, it works every time.
I’m guessing there are folks who’ll defend the scene as “character development” or “pitch black humor,” and at the end of the day, that’s their prerogative. Different strokes for different folks. But I’m not on the bandwagon, and it’s a mighty fat chance that I’ll be getting off. If it was meant to shock, it was a sound success, which is unsurprising given William Friedkin’s penchant for shocking the shit out of people. The problem is that there’s a fine line between shocking and sickening, and Friedkin treads heavily towards the latter. To tell you the truth, if I didn’t have a movie blog to report back to, I probably would have walked out. I’ve never walked out on a movie before, and I’m frankly shocked that no one else walked out amidst the echoes of “Jesus Christ!” throughout the theater.
It’s also got a pretty wacky ending to boot. I overheard a couple people on the way out of the theater talking about how it was, “One of the better endings I’ve seen in a long time,” but that struck me as a pretty subjective statement. It certainly leaves us on an inspired note, I will give it that. Although given everything that goes down leading up to it, it was all just too much for me.
It really is a shame I couldn’t give this movie a higher Verdict because Killer Joe is not without its merits. It’s actually got merits up the wahzoo. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it in the slightest. I can only imagine the looks and comments I’d get from folks if they saw this just because I went and gave it an extra four “Hick-Fil-A’s.” If you could have seen the seat-squirming going on in that theater, you would understand. But my own reputation aside, the deciding factor in all of this is that it’s very difficult to support a movie that’s ultimately so deplorable, even for such a short amount of time. One of those scenes that makes you feel awful for those involved and makes you wonder why it exists in the first place. Or maybe it doesn’t, but it sure did for me.
Just glad I saw this by myself. Friends don’t take friends to see Killer Joe.