"Killer Joe": Does Matthew McConaughey Slay his Critics?

Photo Credit: Lionsgate
June 13th, 2012

"Killer Joe": Does Matthew McConaughey Slay his Critics?

-- Matthew McConaughey will be hitting the big screens again, but not with romantic comedies. Many fans of McConaughey know him for his great performance in romantic flicks such as "The Wedding Planner" and "Failure to Launch." This time, the celebrated actor is starring in a crime/drama/thriller as Joe Cooper, a cop who moonlights as a contract killer in the film "Killer Joe."

The story revolves around a 22-year-old man named Chris (played by Emile Hirsch) who finds himself indebted to a drug kingpin. Unable to find a way to settle the debt, Chris embarks on a harebrained scheme of killing his mother and getting his hands on her life insurance money. To do this, he hires Joe Cooper, who demands an upfront payment for his services. It turns out that Chris cannot make the upfront payment, and Cooper decides to take Chris' sister, Dottie, as a hostage until his dues are settled. As fate would have it, however, the kidnapper and the hostage develop an unusual bond that makes this movie into a twisted fairy tale.
The movie is written by Tracy Letts, a Pulitzer award winner and directed by William Friedkin, an Academy Award winner. William is known for films such as "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist." McConaughey stars in this film with Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Hayden Church. Some critics have described the film as a provocative black comedy and a very brash one at that.

It seems that McConaughey was always destined to act in serious film parts. Even back in the day when he was still a fledging actor, he was getting serious roles in films such as "Contact," "Lone Star" and "Amistad." The romantic comedies now seem to be no more than interludes for this talented actor. Those who used to joke that McConaughey was just a male eye candy will have to swallow their words when "Killer Joe" comes out and the true acting powers of McConaughey are shown.
In fact, those who have been following his career keenly can attest to the fact that this was the direction he was destined to thrive in. Evidence for this can be gleaned from the challenging roles he took in several films in the 1990s, including "The Lincoln Lawyer" and "The Paperboy." The upcoming "Killer Joe," however, promises to be a far more serious work than the previous films.

The NC-17 rating that this movie is saddled with should not distract fans from its entertainment value. It was given this rating because of its twisted storyline involving violence, sex and underhand deeds. These themes can even be gleaned from the films trailer, and some people have pointed this out as evidence for the film not being targeted at mainstream appeal.

McConaughey seems to be getting into darker films as he ages. In fact, most of his recent films have higher ratings. The film's director and distributer (LD Entertainment) appealed against the NC-17 rating from MPAA but lost. The plan is to release the film with the strong scenes uncut, so viewers should be prepared to enjoy it in its entirety.

This film premiered in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival before debuting at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. It is its US distribution that has been dogged by controversies, notably due to its rating. Many fans are waiting to see if and how this rating will influence the film's popularity. The distributor has maintained that its support for the artistic integrity for their filmmakers is unwavering, and that is one of the reasons it plans to release it uncut. At the same time, the MPAA has maintained that it will not downgrade the rating, pointing to graphic sexual content and violence as some of the bases for its decision.

The problem here is that the number of people who will get to see "Killer Joe" in theaters will be limited by this decision. This is because many theater chains will not release the film because they do not show movies with NC-17 rating, which this one has. This will decrease the box-office performance of the film, and the huge potential for award it has will be severely curtailed. Though it is good to protect younger viewers from violence and sex, the decision might, in the long run, cost McConaughey the accolades he certainly deserves from this film. Fans, however, will love the film, if the reactions at Toronto and Venice are anything to go by. Several people have been disappointed with the decision to uphold the rating, including Gershon who said that she wanted the widest possible audience to watch the film.