At the Movies: Killer Joe

Granted, I probably should’ve gone to see that new movie about the bike messenger since it’s the one running all the commercials, but the plot synopsis for “Killer Joe” was much more interesting.

So even though it’s not in wide release and its NC-17 rating ensures that it probably won’t be seen in a theater near you, “Killer Joe” is opening today in St. Louis and sometimes you’ve just gotta give the indy films some space.

Directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) and based on a play by Tracy Letts, “Killer Joe” is a Southern Gothic dark comedy. Four words you don’t see together that often. It’s a strange, lurid, compelling mix.

Emile Hirsch stars as Chris Smith, a young loser in deep debt to local thug Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay). Desperate to pay his bill, Chris convinces his trailer-trash father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother, Ansel’s ex-wife. Killer Joe is a Texas police detective by day but he runs an assassination business on the side.

Chris’ mother has a $50,000 life insurance policy and the lone beneficiary is her daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). Once mom is dead, the insurance money can go to pay Joe with the rest split among Chris, Dottie, Ansel and Ansel’s current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon).

The hitch is that Joe expects his money up front. But Joe is willing to take Dottie as a retainer until the insurance money comes through.

“Killer Joe” is funny, obscene, violent, disturbing, disgusting, compelling and strangely entertaining. I don’t know that I would recommend this movie to anyone … well, maybe a few people.

But the story is clever and there are some nifty visual bits. What really carries the film are the actors. Everyone plays their roles perfectly. One doesn’t usually associate¬†McConaughey with dark, violent, psycho-killer roles, but he takes this one on with relish. Church is a lot of fun as the dim-witted patriarch while Temple shines as the innocent, alluring Dottie.

If you sound intrigued, be warned that “Killer Joe” certainly earns its NC-17 rating — there’s a long scene with a chicken leg that I will not soon forget. Although I’d really like to.


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