Movie Review : ‘Killer Joe’ and the SOL Underclass

By Frances O’Neill Zimmerman

While I’m worrying about the disconnect between Paul Ryan’s beautiful blue eyes and baby face and his flinty role as Mitt Romney’s Slasher in Chief for every single American social, medical and educational program, I turned last night for solace to the Landmark Hillcrest Cinema and sexy, handsome, cool Matthew McConaughey in “Killer Joe.” I recommend it if you need a break from Mittens and his new hatchet man.

This is an incredibly violent, funny, and very dark film.  It’s rated NC-17 for everything — did I mention violence? — but “Killer Joe” is really a perfect movie for our times. It provides as shocking a view of the SOL underclass in this country as I can remember, more powerful than the great dystopian “Blade Runner” from back in the ’80’s. That was sci-fi: this is 2012.

In “Killer Joe” people are hand-to-mouth poor, corrupt, selfish, brutal, vengeful, stupid and deeply damaged. Dad (Thomas Haden-Church) has a two-timing wife and a penniless loser son (Emile Hirsch.) They all live hand-to-mouth with tuna casserole, KFC and Bud for din, watching giant trucks do wheelies off-road on TV. Trailer-park neighbors keep a vicious pit bull chained to the stoop.

The two men plot to repay Junior’s OTB gambling debts and make a little on the side by offing marginal drug-dealing Mom — Dad’s ex — and getting her life insurance. They hire McConaughey who is compulsively neat, polite, even reflectively dreamy,  as well as menacing. He’s a Dallas cop who moonlights as a paid killer and who takes a shine to the family’s daft kid-sister (Juno Temple)  whom he claims as his “retainer.”

The vaguely incestuous idiot-brother discusses the murder plans with his dad at a strip club, at an abandoned poolhall and from a working muffler shop. He runs afoul of biker-enforcers seeking debt repayment and he doesn’t like his sister’s having fallen for the very persuasive McConaughey. They actually have something tender going, if odd.

Written by playwright Tracy Letts, directed by William Friedkin of “The French Connection,” and filmed in post-Katrina New Orleans by Caleb Deschanel who did  the exquisite “Black Stallion” years ago.


  1. avatarAnna Daniels says

    I watched the trailer for “Killer Joe” & think Hobbes needs an update: Life is brutish, short and requires a taste for tuna casseroles.

  2. avatarGoatskull says

    I definitely want to see this. A colleague of mine saw this movie and felt it was spot on based on how he grew up in East Texas. By his own admission he really should be in prison but is thankful he’s not.