Killer Joe (2011)

Killer Joe (2011) movie poster

director William Friedkin
viewed: 04/14/2013

Director William Friedkin (The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973)) scored a relative amount of attention in his 2011 film, Killer Joe, mainly because it rated an NC-17 for sex and nudity, among other things.  It’s the second film he has made of late with writer Tracy Letts, who, as in 2006’s Bug, adapted one of his plays to a screenplay for The Exorcist director.

This one is a chicken-fried black comedy, with a harsh reality center.  It features Matthew McConaughey as the title killer, a Texas cop who sidelines as an assassin for hire.  He is hired by a trailer park family who decides to have an ex axed for insurance money.  The family consists of Thomas Haden Church (loser dad), Emile Hirsch (loser son), Gina Gershon (looser step-mother), and Juno Temple (sweet little young thing sister).  Joe takes a liking to the Dottie the virgin and accepts her as his “retainer”.  Of course, with a family this dumb and low, things are not going to work out the way they planned.  It’s bound to get ugly.

Unlike Bug, which bugged me because it felt so much like a play, Killer Joe manages to break away from that trap that films adapted from plays often have.  That is feeling like a filmed staged thing rather than a “movie”.  It’s a personal issue.  Don’t mind me.

Juno Temple (daughter of director Julien Temple) does a pretty good job with the naif waif Dottie.  At times she really looks and seems a teenager.  At other times, she seems a bit older, no doubt her actual age, casting a glint of maturity which contrasts starkly with the role.

There is a moderate amount of nudity.  Not that much sex.  Notoriously there is a sex scene involving a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is where the film caught the MPAA.

Frankly, this struck me while watching season one of Game of Thrones, but almost all of the popular pay-cable television dramas feature tons and tons of sex and nudity.  They are virtually defined by that fact.  Movies used to have a lot more of it in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  How much is adequate or too much is not at issue here.  But because movies are rated by the MPAA and wind up with severe marketing and sales penalties if rated NC-17, meaning that they can’t be sold in WalMart or distributed or shown in X number of venues reduces their marketability and thusly has them almost always edited down to what the MPAA considers an R.

Has a film ever been given an NC-17 purely for violence?  Nope.  It’s sex.  And the while one might come to think from studying movies over the past fifty years that American cinema has become far more prudish and far more violent.  Maybe you would even think that people don’t want to see nudity and sex in films and media.  But those pay cable shows prove that is utterly, utterly the opposite.  Those programs don’t get limited in their distribution, though they arguably are by definition.  But they are also not limited in their content choices, be it cursing, fucking, or beheading.  There is a double standard in media at the moment that is extreme and pronounced.  Films are much more “self-censored” than cable television.

It’s pretty freaking ridiculous.  I mean, the MPAA has never been a standard of consistency or intelligence.  When you count the number of times the word “fuck” is uttered in a film to determine its acceptability (like a threshold exists), but allow for endless amounts of evisceration, it’s stupid.  I believe that rating systems do have value but the level between R and NC-17 creates a greater problem for making something with freedom.

This is nothing new.  It’s been a decade almost since This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), in which filmmaker Kirby Dick tried to dig into what the arbitrary reality was of the rating system.  But it just struck me while watching all the titillating sex on Game of Thrones and True Blood that this dichotomy is extremely unfair to film.

You never know what is going to strike you when you sit down to watch a movie.  Or at least I don’t.  But for Killer Joe, which I thought was decent, not great,…this is what it was.

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