Under the Radar?: “Killer Joe”


Last summer, “Killer Joe” was released into 75 theaters nationwide and grossed less than $2 million. Directed by Academy Award winner William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”, “The French Connection”), and starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Hayden Church, “Killer Joe” tells the story of a trailer trash family that puts together a poorly thought out plan to hire a hitman, leading to unfortunate consequences.

Full of violence, depravity and brutality, “Killer Joe” is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re looking for a dark little movie with a side of WTF, “Killer Joe” may be just the pic for you.

When Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in trouble with loan sharks, he stumbles upon a dangerous, evil way to get clear of all his money issues. He decides to hire a hit man to kill his mother for the insurance money. It’s not that simple, of course, for one thing he’s not even the beneficiary. And so, he brings his father (who is divorced and remarried) and his developmentally challenged sister in on the plan. His sister (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary of the policy, so she would need to know in order to split the proceeds once the deed was done. His father (Thomas Hayden Church) tells his current wife (Gina Gershen) as well, so the entire trailer park family is in on the plan.

The plan is to hire a dirty cop (Matthew McConaughey) named Joe Cooper, who secretly carries out contract killings. Joe is a focused, coiled, dangerous man. He’ll take the job, but he wants payment up front. The problem is that the family has no money. The crime, the killing, is monetarily motivated. So Joe insists on a retainer.

He wants Chris’ sister, Dottie.

Dottie is a simple but sweet, good looking young girl. She suffers from a degree of mild retardation that may or may not be related to abuse she suffered as a child. Joe meets her and falls for her, but he’s also in a position of power over the family. He abuses that power by making them agree to allow him to have his way with Dottie as a down payment on the crime.

Of course things don’t go exactly as planned, and eventually this low class family is forced to face the consequences of their actions… and deal with the fact that a dangerous killer is now involved with their vulnerable sister/daughter.

“Killer Joe” is certainly not a movie for the squeamish. At the highest level, it’s a film about desperate, stupid trailer trash doing something very evil in order to gain a marginal sum of money. Joe himself is a cold blooded killer, but he’s also a sexual predator. And a bit of deviant one at that (there were times when this character reminded me of Hopper’s Frank Booth from “Blue Velvet”). When things go sour, he becomes very violent, and the consequences are shown quite graphically.

The acting, characters and plot, of the film, however, make it worth wading through some of the difficult to watch moments. McConaughey is fantastic in the lead here. He’s evil, intelligent and manipulative. You get the feeling that there’s ice water in his veins. Hirsch, Church and Gershon are each varying degrees of dumb and greedy (a deadly combination), to the point where its occasionally painful to watch as they plot and plan. Juno Temple is fantastic as the sweet simpleton who isn’t even aware of her sexual presence. Together they all put on a painful play… and the dark plot, with occasional twists helps keep you hooked in to watching it.

“Killer Joe” should come with a warning label. But for those who like their films disturbing and dark, it’s a potent dosage of sketchy characters involved in a dangerous situation.


Daniel Fogarty

66 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Killer Joe”

  1. I realize how bad this sounds – but this film is just my type. 😀
    I just like those dark twisted dramas, and I’ve never seen a poor performance from Mathew, so I’ll be watching this. I’d forgotten about it though, so thanks for the heads up!!

  2. Good call with Blue Velvet comparison! I never got a sense Dottie was retarded, though – she was just a little odd and the ending showed she was crazy but also quite smart too.

  3. Definitely under the radar. “dark little movie with a side of WTF” is a perfect way to describe it, too. Loved this film, one of my favorites from 2012. The acting is superb, especially Matthew McConaughey.

    • Yeah, I thought everyone in the cast was excellent, but its definitely McConaughey’s movie. I dont know if it would have made my best of list (if I had seen it in time) but I can see why it made so many others!

  4. Good review! I loved it, it is even on my list of top 10 films of 2012. Dark, violent and in a messed up way I found it funny too. shame it is a bit overlooked by people.

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed it Eric. I think as far as the general public goes, yeah, it totally flew under the radar. Judging from the turnout here though, apparently a lof of bloggers and such found their way to it.

      Definitely was “messed up” LOL

  5. Pingback: Killer Joe Review: Fun for the Whole Family! | Rorschach Reviews

    • Heh. Thanks. Its really the only way to describe it.

      Appreciate the compliment, yeah, there’s a little bit of a sickness to each of them, and they’re not afraid to mingle sex and violence, so it just struck me… Probably because I just watched and wrote up Blue Velvet not long ago.

      Thanks for stopping by and sounding off, Quirky!

  6. Pingback: Killer Joe (2011): Texas Trailer Trashy | MikesFilmTalk

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