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Killer good time

Killer Joe (NC-17)

Killer Joe, based on Tracy Letts’ play, and written for the screen by him, begins with a heapin’ helping of trailer park harshness and doesn’t let up. The opening scene presents a rainy night in the trailer park, with trash, which seems to be ubiquitous in the film, burning in barrels outside. A pit bull barks, harsh language and loud noise abounds, and nakedness is thrust into the face of the viewers. This is the Texas that is “a bunch of hicks and rednecks with too much space to walk around in.”

Killer Joe probably isn’t what comes to mind when you read NC-17. Sure, it has some full-frontal nudity, but the line is crossed within its vulgarity, namely its violence. It’s a brutal film that, at times, pushes the limits of what we will continue to view extensively. The sexuality is mixed with violence, carried on screen by Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a seductive, sinister, and toxic man. McConaughey is fantastic as Joe, both commanding and terrifying in his swagger and charm. He seems to be drifting away from the parody of himself that he was in danger of becoming before his recent stretch of better film choices (Magic Mike, Bernie). Sure, he still throws in a joke suitable for a rom-com from time to time: “I wish I had a funny story about first dates or casserole,” he tells Dottie, but, even then, you’re almost afraid to laugh.

A fantastic cast melds with this intriguing story and well-executed script. Perhaps the most likable of the bunch is Ansel Smith (Thomas Haden Church), the bumbling father of Chris (Emile Hirsch) and Dottie Smith (Juno Temple). Haden Church is perfect in his role as the never-aware and easily duped father, caught up in a plot to murder his ex-wife that will supposedly enrich he and his wife Sharla’s (Gina Gershon) life, along with his kids’ predicament.

The characters are all believable in their stupidity. It’s those flaws that drive the story, leading its twists through one poor decision after another. For instance, Dottie’s discovery of a plan to kill her mother, in which she casually and blankly replies, “I heard ya’ll talkin’ ’bout killin’ mama. I think it’s a good idea.”

So things are put into motion, but Chris (Hirsch) doesn’t have a knack when it comes to finances and some gambling debts on top of his rash, ill-conceived plan, leaves him with nothing to give Joe, leaving Dottie trapped in a role of retainer and at the mercy of Joe. Dottie is naive and fascinated, but ultimately she is frozen by fear and the pain she sees in those eyes of Joe that she says “hurt.”

Director William Friedkin gets everything he can out his actors, the script, and the setting here synthesizing it into a must-see film. I’m not convinced that it had to be NC-17–because really that is a choice dependent on the boundaries that are tested (specifically one scene)–but it functions as such and is a filmmaking success. It’s just a shame that it will keep it from reaching a wider audience.

Some films are gritty and raw but Joe seems to be slimy through and through. You won’t soon forget its filth.

3.5/4 Stars

Killer Joe is the late night movie at the Art Theater. Its final showings are this Wednesday and Thursday at 10 p.m.

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