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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Killer Joe

December 31st, 2012

Killer Joe - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Killer Joe came out in limited release in July. It earned good buzz initially and it started really well, but as it expanded, it struggled. Granted, it still managed to hit $1 million, but it didn't come close to expanding wide. Was it as good as its opening couple weekends? Or was there a reason it only thrived in very limited release?

The Movie

The film begins with Chris Smith arriving at his father's trailer in the middle of the night banging on the door and window demanding his sister, Dottie, let him in. Eventually, his step-mother, Sharla, opens the door, while not wearing any pants, to let him in. He's actually there to talk to his father, Ansel. He's a drug-dealer, but he owes his supplier $6,000 after his mom, Adele (Julia Adams), stole two ounces of coke. Now he needs the money, or he's going to be killed.

Chris does have an idea. He and Ansel will hire a hitman, Joe Cooper, a.k.a., Killer Joe. Killer Joe is a cop, who kills people on the side. It seems Adele has a $50,000 life insurance policy, and Chris recently learned Dottie is the sole beneficiary. Ansel is a tough sell, but when Dottie overhears them, she agrees with the idea. Maybe. She's a little slow, plus she sleepwalks, so she might have been asleep at the time.

When Joe shows up to talk, Dottie is the only one there. But later he meets with Chris and Ansel, the meeting doesn't go well. Firstly, Killer Joe is charging $25,000, not $20,000 like he was told. Also, he wants it in advance. They don't have the money, but they do have something Joe's interested in, Dottie. They come to an agreement, but even after Chris is beat up over his drug debts, he calls off the hit. He can't deal with selling his little sister like that. However, it's too late and Joe isn't leaving until he gets his money.

And there's a problem with that. ... But that problem brings with it a lot of spoilers.

The first thing I need to talk about with Killer Joe is how unpleasant it is. This is not a lighthearted romp and everyone, with the exception of Dottie, is a nasty, awful person. The lead character is horrible, and not just in a, 'He was pushed to do bad things' kind of way. The titular character was charismatic, but that only masked how vicious he was. It does have a cruel comedic streak to it, but it leans heavily to the black end of black comedy. And that goes double for the finale. There are many people who will find this movie difficult to sit through.

On the other hand, the film has a lot going for it, including an uncompromising script and a cast that is up to the challenge. Matthew McConaughey has been in a lot of stunningly bad movies over the years. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Tiptoes, Fool's Gold, Surfer, Dude, etc. The past couple years, he's had a string of amazing performances in really good movies and he is essential to the success of this film. Gina Gershon is underrated as an actress, so I'm glad to see her earn praise for her performance here. Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, and Thomas Haden Church are all fantastic and William Friedkin gets the most out of his actors and the excellent script.

One final note, it has been a while since I've heard "Strokin'" by Clarence Carter. It's quite a jarring switch in tone for the movie, but a nice touch.

The Extras

The extras begin with with an audio commentary track by William Friedkin, the director. Next up is a 26-minute long making of featurette. Much of the cast, plus Tracy Letts, the writer, and Caleb Deschanel, the Cinematographer, hang out for a Q&A session at the South by Southwest film festival and all forty minutes are here. Finally, there's a 4-minute intro by William Friedkin used at the South by Southwest film festival.

The Blu-ray has no additional extras, while the technical presentation is good, but not great, for a couple reasons. Firstly, the film cost just $10 million to make, so you can't expect it to have the same visual flair that blockbusters have. Secondly, the film has a soft look to many scenes and a lot of the outdoor shots are a tad overexposed; however, these are the result of stylistic choices, not a bad transfer. When given a chance to shine, it does with an impressive level of details, strong colors, deep blacks. There are no compression issues, at least not that I could see. Likewise, much of the film takes place inside of a trailer with a handful of people talking, so don't expect the audio track to be too active. It is very clear and there's good separation in the dialog. There are some scenes that are more immersive, but the bass rarely gets used.

The Blu-ray costs 32% or $4 more than the DVD, which is an acceptable price, but not a real bargain.

The Verdict

For most of the movie, while I was watching Killer Joe, I was comparing it to Fargo. It wasn't as good, but it was giving me the same vibe. Then the ending happened. It is brutal, probably too brutal for most moviegoers and that's likely the reason it didn't thrive at the box office. For those who like a more brutal edge to their films, then this film is worth owning on either DVD or Blu-ray. Neither format is a substantially better deal than the other.

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Filed under: Video Review, Killer Joe, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church, William Friedkin, Emile Hirsch, Tracy Letts, Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Caleb Deschanel