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Killer Joe Review

By Mark Grady

Take her life...please


Everything about "Killer Joe" smacks of desperation. The characters are desperate, the situations are desperate, and director William Friedkin ("The French Connection") seems desperate to make a movie that anyone will care about. Desperation rarely leads to success.

Set in the suburbs of Dallas, "Killer Joe" covers some typical movie ground. Young trailer-dweller Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch, "Into the Wild") has gotten himself into debt with the local drug lord. His solution? Hire the titular assassin (Matthew McConaughey, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") to kill his good-for-nothing alcoholic mother so that he can collect on her insurance policy. Lacking the cash to pay Joe up front, he offers the affections of his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple, "Little Birds") as a retainer. For whatever reason, Chris also brings in his dopey father, Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church, "Sideways") and shrill stepmother, Sharla (Gina Gershon, "P.S. I Love You") as accomplices. Hard as it might be to believe, that plan goes awry.

The biggest issue with "Killer Joe" is the gap between its aspirations and the actual result. As the musical queues, which clearly evoke Ennio Morricone, make clear, Mr. Friedkin is setting the bar high. This is going to be less Guy Ritchie and more Coen Brothers. What it winds up being is a mess. The script, by Tracy Letts (based on his play of the same name), is reminiscent of philosophy written by a college freshman. The characters occasionally achieve a third dimension, there are a few interesting scenes, and there is definitely some kind of allegory at play, but it never quite gets developed. It's all just a bit too eclectic to ever make any actual sense and the climactic scene simply devolves into a junior high school production of "Pulp Fiction".

The high points (namely Thomas Hayden Church and Juno Temple) just aren't enough to keep the audience engaged throughout this disjointed story and, frankly, it's no revelation that if you invite evil into your life you will suffer for it. Mr. Friedkin: If you feel the need to drum in a lesson as old as time - at least tell it in an interesting way.

What did you think?

Movie title Killer Joe
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating NC-17
Our rating
Summary The characters, the situations - and director William Friedkin - are all desperate.
View all articles by Mark Grady
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