Killer Joe

Killer Joe Information

Killer Joe is a 2011 American Southern Gothic black comedy crime film directed by William Friedkin, written by Tracy Letts, and starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church. Letts adapted the screenplay from his play of the same name; Friedkin and Letts had similarly collaborated on the 2006 film Bug.


In West Dallas, Texas, finding himself in considerable debt, with loan sharks threatening to kill him, 22-year-old drug dealer Chris Smith decides the only solution is to murder his mother, Adele, to collect the $50,000 of insurance money. He has been told by his mother's boyfriend Rex that the sole beneficiary will be Chris' younger sister Dottie. Assuming Dottie would share any money she gets with them, Chris tries to rope his father, Ansel, into a conspiracy to kill Adele " who is Ansel's ex-wife " to get the money. Chris tells his dad that he has heard of a guy who can help them " Joe Cooper, a police detective who has a side career as a contract killer. Ansel eventually agrees, planning to split the money four ways between themselves, Dottie, and Ansel's new wife Sharla. Dottie hears the plan as they are talking, and agrees that it's a good idea.

The plan almost fails when Chris is unable to front Joe's fee. However, Joe met the odd, childlike Dottie when he came to their mobile home to discuss the details, and offers to take her as a "retainer" until the insurance comes through. Through Dottie's interaction with Joe, it is revealed that Adele (her mother) tried to kill her once when she was an infant. Joe "dates" Dottie and then appears to be staying over at their home and having sex with her regularly. Chris has a change of heart and asks him to call it off, unaware that the killing has already happened. But, he finds out quickly enough when Joe calmly enlists his help to move the body and torch the car they put it in.

After Adele's death is discovered, the family learns that the insurance claim actually pays to Adele's boyfriend Rex, not to Dottie. Ansel and Sharla confront Chris about this and he admits he originally heard the details about the policy from Rex, who also originally told him about Joe. The family all realize that Chris has been duped into hiring someone to commit this murder. Immediately afterwards, Chris tries to talk his sister into running away with him to escape the loan sharks. Dottie says she will go with him, but she must see Joe again first.

Ansel and Sharla go back to their home after the funeral. Joe is already there with Dottie. He comes out of her room and begins asking seemingly casual questions of Sharla. They become more and more pointed until ultimately they force her to admit that she knew the policy was really $100,000 (accidental death is double). Joe also has retrieved some nude photos of Rex which Sharla had taken which Joe uses to prove to Ansel that she has been having an affair with Rex. Joe also shows them a check he has obviously taken from Rex, payable to Rex for $100,000. Angered, Ansel declines to protect Sharla when Joe punches her and forces her to simulate oral sex on a piece of fried chicken.

Joe knows Chris is coming to take Dottie away and he threatens to murder Ansel and Sharla if they don't help him prevent Chris from taking her. Joe tells Sharla to put dinner on the table. After Chris arrives and they are all seated, Joe announces that he and Dottie will be married. Chris refuses to let them, ordering Dottie to leave with him, as Joe tells her to stay where she is. For a moment she sits there; then she gets up and turns and while the men yell out at her, Chris threatens Joe with a gun, and the two struggle. Ansel and Sharla jump in to assist Joe in pummeling Chris. In all the confusion, Dottie recovers the gun and in a rage she fires several shots, killing Chris and seriously wounding Ansel. Dottie turns the gun on Joe, telling him that she is pregnant. Joe appears overjoyed as he inches closer to Dottie. The film ends just as Dottie moves her finger back on the trigger.


Rating controversy

In the United States, the film received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA for "graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality." After an unsuccessful appeal, LD Entertainment announced plans to release the film uncut with the NC-17 on July 27, 2012.

On October 23, 2012, the MPAA rating was surrendered, and thus the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc with the unrated version in the United States. An edited R-rated version was also released on DVD.

In the United Kingdom, the film received an 18 certificate from the BBFC, for its "strong bloody and sadistic violence and sexual threat".


Killer Joe premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival before making its North American debut at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where US distribution rights were acquired by LD Entertainment. LD Entertainment, Liddell's new theatrical distribution company headed by David Dinerstein, are scheduled to release Killer Joe in July 2012.

The film made its Quebec premiere at the Fantasia Festival, an annual international genre film festival held in Montreal, Quebec, on July 31, 2012.

The film's UK premiere was at the Opening Gala of the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 20, 2012, where it was introduced by Friedkin and Gershon, who later attended the after-party at the National Museum of Scotland. The film received a theatrical release in the United Kingdom on June 29. It opened in three theaters almost a month later (July 27) in the United States.

Box office

The film was not a box office success, only grossing $1,987,762 in the domestic market and $1,677,307 internationally for a worldwide total of $3,665,069. The film was only released in 75 theaters nationwide and closed on October 14, nine days prior to the surrendering of the rating. The film had an estimated $10 million budget.

Critical reception

The film received favorable reviews from critics, with the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes recognizing 77% of 147 reviews to be positive; the consensus states: "Violent, darkly comic, and full of strong performances, Killer Joe proves William Friedkin hasn't lost his touch, even if the plot may be too lurid for some."

According to Justin Chang of Variety, "Killer Joe was Letts' first play, written more than a decade before his smash hit August: Osage County, and the text's sneer of condescension toward its panoply of trailer-trash caricatures has not entirely abated here", yet "the film doesn't belabor even its cheaper punchlines, and the fleet, kinetic visual style devised by d.p. Caleb Deschanel and editor Darrin Navarro emphasizes narrative momentum over cruel comedy. To be sure, Friedkin is clearly amused and appalled by his slovenly, foul-mouthed characters, with their off-the-charts levels of dysfunction and incompetence. But he directs them vigorously enough, pushing them past the realm of caricature to individuate themselves onscreen."

The Daily Telegraph said "Church, Gershon, and Hirsch portray a "uniformly gormless family unit" in a film whose "positively Jacobean climax [earns] its 18 certificate and then some."

Matthew McConaughey received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead. The Women Film Critics Circle, however, nominated the film for its display of the worst female and male images.

Home media

Killer Joe was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc December 21, 2012. The DVD features Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen featurette, South by Southwest Q&A with the cast and intro by Friedkin, and the red-band theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray Disc includes all DVD features including the theatrically-released cut under the name the "Unrated Director's Cut" and an audio commentary by Friedkin.

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