This week in movies you missed: Matthew McConaughey goes sociopathic (and shows more than his chest) in a Southern-fried nightmare from the director of The Exorcist.
What You Missed
In deepest trailer-park Texas, young Chris (Emile Hirsch) has a problem. Someone stole his stash of cocaine, and now his suppliers want their money, or he’s dead. The prime suspect: his mother, with whom he has a less-than-cordial relationship. (“You hit her again?” someone asks, on learning he’s been kicked out of her house.) Chris approaches his thick-witted dad (Thomas Haden Church) and vampy, trampy stepmom (Gina Gershon) with a proposition that they hire a hitman to off the culprit, then split her life insurance policy, which is made out to his dotty sister, Dottie (Juno Temple).
The man they choose for the job is the titular Killer Joe Cooper (McConaughey), who is, conveniently for cover-up purposes, also a cop. But Joe isn’t willing to do the job on spec, and the “retainer” he has in mind is Dottie herself.
What could possibly go wrong?
Why You Missed It
Saddled with an NC-17 rating (for pretty good reasons), this indie from Exorcist director William Friedkin only hit 75 theaters, despite a script by Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts (from his play) and McConaughey’s star power.
Should You Keep Missing It?
If you’re eagerly awaiting Django Unchained, if you love Blood Simple, if you ate up the craziness of Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, hie thee to the video store to grab Killer Joe. If, on the other hand, movie violence — both physical and emotional — is the absolute last thing you want to see right now, you may want to give it a pass.
While this character-driven noir isn’t one of those films that involve people gleefully spraying other people with bullets, it is rude, crude, lewd and unabashedly enthusiastic about exploring very bad human behavior, with no redemption for anyone in sight. Think Tennessee Williams with a big side of John Waters. (There’s one really demented scene involving a fried chicken leg.) In other words, a probable future cult classic, but not for everyone.
To be honest, I’m not sure there was an ultimate point to Killer Joe besides painting a redneck family portrait in shades of lurid WTF-ery. But I won’t soon forget the creepy “romance” — if it is that — between Joe and Dottie. Is Dottie “simple,” is she a not-so-dreamy Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or is she just more honest than everybody else, as Friedkin claims in this fascinating, no-holds-barred interview? Maybe a little of all three. And there’s also something way off about Joe, who seduces her with reptilian grace, slithering his way into her fantasy life. It’s more than suggested that he puts her in a hypnotic trance.
It’s all more proof that a character-acting McConaughey is a good McConaughey. The character he creates here is genuinely scary at times, and way more interesting than your average movie psycho. Watching him in Killer Joe and last spring’s Bernie, I could totally forget McConaughey's shirtless participation in travesties such as Fool’s Gold. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while.
Verdict: Sit down in your own personal living-room drive-in/grindhouse and enjoy.
More New DVDs
10 Years (Channing Tatum and his real-life wife play friends at a high school reunion.)
Backwards (James Van Der Beek in a romance about rowing.)
Beloved (generation-spanning musical from French director Christophe Honoré, with Catherine Deneuve)
The Good Doctor (Orlando Bloom tries to cure a young woman.)
Hermano (Venezuelan film about soccer player trying to escape the slums)
Kiss Me (Thirtysomething Swedish stepsisters fall in love.)
Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor directed and stars as an admissions officer falling for undergrad Elizabeth Olsen.)
Mansome (Morgan Spurlock takes on metrosexual masculinity.)
Red Hook Summer (Spike Lee’s latest is a tale about childhood.)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)