Killer Joe (2011)


Written by: Tracy Letts

Directed by: William Friedkin

I am married to a man who has learned more than he ever wanted to know about people who some folks uncharitably call “white trash.” He’s been a police officer for over 20 years, and we have our share of bat-crap crazy here in Augusta County, Virginia.

I’ve heard a few stories about local families — stemming from domestic disturbance calls and people flipping out over being served warrants — that might rival Jerry Springer. Not to mention the poor guy who was being revived by rescue workers, after a heart attack, as his wife made her son go through his pockets for spare change.

So I guess it isn’t surprising that John didn’t see the penultimate rednecks in Killer Joe as excessively stereotypical. He reckoned he’d met a few of them.


I was hesitant to see this film, which I’d requested from Netflix because John wanted to see it. Based on what little I’d heard, I strongly suspected this movie would exceed my threshold for fucked-upness. And it did. It was also the most fun I’d had watching a DVD in months.

Killer Joe centers around a Texas family, the kind that gives “trailer trash” a bad name. Ansel Smith (Thomas Haden Church) is the family patriarch — his mean-spirited nature is greatly overshadowed by his dim-witted cluelessness. He lives with his gorgeous, skanky wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) and seemingly fragile daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). His son Chris (Emile Hirsch) shows up in the middle of the night, frantic because his mom allegedly stole his cocaine. (Now that’s my kinda family!) Chris is in debt to drug dealers, and unless he can come up with $5000, his life is forfeit. Chris — whose intellect seems to rival his dad’s — hatches a plot to murder his mother, Ansel’s ex-wife, and collect the insurance money.

Enter “Killer Joe” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas police investigator who happens to moonlight as a killer-for-hire. Sure, why not? After all, police work pays crap salaries. 😛 Joe plays by a clear set of rules, and he demands $25,000 up front. A problem Ansel solves by pimping out his daughter to him. Yes, really.

This sounds like the set-up for an incredibly stupid comedy, exploiting worn-out stereotypes and gags, that couldn’t possibly be worth the price of a DVD rental. However Killer Joe offers an intelligent script with well-crafted dialogue. It is also well cast, down to the smallest roles, with outstanding performances.

Matthew McConaughey really knocked it out of the ballpark with this role. He portrays a psychopath who follows his own bizarre ethical code. He plays it, paradoxically, with just the right amount of subtlety and with chillingly cruel, ballsy lunacy. I also loved Church, Gershon, and Hirsch.

But for me, the most memorable performance was Juno Temple as Ansel’s very damaged daughter, Dottie. She’s an ambiguous character, seemingly innocent and childlike, but with an edge, and both strange and perceptive in surprising ways. Seeing her exploited is agonizing. But is she entirely a passive victim? Throughout the film, I found this slightly ambiguous, a factor that made her character even more enigmatic and interesting.

This is definitely not a film for everyone. But if you enjoy dark comedy and don’t mind explicit violence — plus the skeeviness factor — you might enjoy this movie as much as we did.

A Few Final Thoughts:

I wonder what my neighbors, not to mention the UPS guy, would think if I started answering the door naked from the waist down? I’ll concede that Gina Gershon is way hotter than I am. But still…eww!

I have to mention the scene everyone’s been talking about — the infamous K-Fry-C thing. When I heard there was a twisted, disgusting scene involving fried chicken, I don’t know what I was expecting. But, damn. This wasn’t it. We watched part of a Q & A with the filmmakers. When asked how he possibly conceived of such a thing, the writer’s initial response was “I wasn’t entirely sober.” Hah! I love it. I often suspect that explains a lot of what I see on the movie screen.

And the scene where Joe shows Ansel the photos? “Is that your dick?” Holy. Crap. That was priceless. I’m kind of in awe of the fact that filmmakers have the imagination — and the sheer brazen cajones — to come up with this stuff.

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