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Film / Killer Joe

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2011 Southern Gothic Black Comedy directed by William Friedkin, based on the play of the same name by Tracy Letts. One of the rare movies to be released to theaters with an NC-17 rating. (For those who don't know, the NC-17 rating has long been associated with borderline pornography and arthouse flicks that contain a lot of explicit sex and nudity. The last movie that tried to show that NC-17 was a commercially viable rating was Showgirls. It failed.)

Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a young drug dealer in Dallas County who owes money to a loan shark. He can't pay it back himself as he doesn't have the cash, and his father isn't going to bail him out again. He hatches a scheme upon hearing from his stepfather that his mother has a $50,000 life insurance policy on her with his sister listed as the beneficiary. He convinces his father to plan to have her killed, and collect the policy to be split amongst them and his current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), which will give him the money he needs. But rather than do it himself and risk messing it up he decides to go ahead and hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, in what was widely seen as a Career Resurrection role), a Dallas PD detective who works as a contract killer on the side.


The problem is, Joe requires his $25,000 fee up front, and the family can't afford to pay him. He's about to call the deal off...until he sees the daughter Dottie (Juno Temple), and makes an exception on the ground that she serve as a "retainer" to take in case they aren't able to pay him. The family ends up agreeing to the deal and even tricks Dottie into having a one night affair with Joe to seal the deal. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Well it turns out, a lot.



  • Affably Evil:
    • Digger, a loan shark seen only in the middle of the film, who acts toward Chris as a cool uncle would toward his nephew before casually ordering his men to beat Chris for unpaid debts.
    • Joe himself kind of qualifies, but it becomes clear toward the end that he's more Faux Affably Evil.
  • Anti-Hero: Chris starts out as a Nominal Hero, assuming he could be even considered a hero at all. By the end of the film he's moved up to a Unscrupulous Hero or even Pragmatic Hero.
  • Asshole Victim: Heavily implied to be the case with Chris and Dottie's mother, though she's never seen alive on screen to confirm it. Also the case with Rex.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Depending on if Dottie really didn't go through with shooting Joe. Dottie also points out that he's the father of her baby.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Very much averted with Sharla and Chris, who both take bloody beatings.
  • Black Comedy: Multiple murders, and a scene where Ansel's poorly-sewn sleeve falls off his suit at the lawyer's.
  • Break the Haughty: Chris and Sharla are on the receiving end of this trope.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Chris wakes up this way after having a dream of Dottie in the nude.
  • Child by Rape: Possibly Dottie's baby with Joe, depending on how consensual you feel their relationship was.
  • Dies Wide Open: How Chris meets his end.
  • Dirty Cop: Works as a hitman in his spare time? Yep.
  • Erotic Eating: A literal, forced and disturbing example.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Both Chris and Ansel seem utterly horrified by Joe's utter depravity and shocking acts of violence.
  • Establishing Character Moment: A young man arrives a trailer at night, in the pouring rain, screaming to be let in. Finally a woman shows up, wearing a dirty white shirt and nothing else, and lets him in. The audience knows right away that they are white trash rednecks.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Our heroes are two idiotic trailer-trash crooks who want to murder their mother/ex-wife to pay off a debt to gangsters. The villain is a monstrous psychopath who enjoys psychologically manipulating a troubled, unstable young woman. The initial victims are a pair of adulterers, one of whom arranges for the other to be killed and the other stole her son's drugs and put him in the mess to begin with. There is no good here, only varying levels of bad. Dottie, the only character who is within hailing distance of "nice", is completely okey-doke with the murder of her mother.
  • Fair Cop: Being played by Matthew McConaughey, Joe qualifies as he works as a cop in his day job.
  • Family Values Villain: Joe displays a bit of this. He insists that the Smiths speak politely to him rather than swear, be hospitable while he lives with them as part of their arrangement and even wrangles them into a twisted caricature of a traditional family dinner around the table towards the end of the movie. He also seems ecstatic to learn that Dottie is pregnant with his baby.
  • Fan Disservice: Dottie's frequently naked and in various states of undress, but the context is more disturbing than sexy.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Joe is kind of a charming guy if you don't know that he's a sociopathic killer, but it's quite obvious that this is just an act once his truly dark nature becomes clear.
  • From Bad to Worse: First, there's an insurance-related murder plot with a hitman who soon gets a crush on the contractor's sister. Then the protagonists discover they won't get the insurance money and it all goes to hell.
  • The Ghost: Rex and Adele are absent from almost the entire film. We get to see Adele's corpse later while Rex is arrested - and presumably Killed Offscreen - by Joe.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Dottie, as explained in A Lighter Shade of Black.
  • Hairy Girl: Sharla is shown in the very first scene to not shave her pubic hair, answering the door bottomless. In her nude scenes, Dottie shows that she doesn't either.
  • Hitler Cam: Joe is shot this way a couple of times, including the scene where a fried chicken leg is used for something it shouldn't be used for.
  • Humiliation Conga: Chris' entire role seems to be this. It culminates in his father and stepmother enthusiastically helping Joe beat the shit out of him, followed by his sister shooting him in the chest.
  • Incest Subtext: Chris dreams about a naked Dottie, but it doesn't seem to go beyond that.
  • Jump Cut: Used a couple of times in what seems to be an effort to unsettle the audience. In one scene Joe is sitting down outside. Instead of showing him stand up, Friedkin uses a Jump Cut to Joe already standing.
  • Karma Houdini: Possibly Joe.
  • Killed Offscreen: Rex, judging by Joe's comments.
  • Killer Cop: By day, Joe is a detective in the Dallas Police Department. He’s a hitman on the side.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: While Dottie agrees to the plan to kill her mother, she manages to remain initially the only sympathetic character in the movie, as she comes across as rather sweet, even if twisted by her upbringing and circumstances, and wants to kill her mother primarily because she didn't treat Dottie too well.
  • Little Black Dress: Dottie's family gets her one when preparing to pimp her out to Joe.
  • Morality Pet: Dottie for Chris.
  • Naked on Arrival: Sharla's first scene involves her not wearing panties. With the camera filming her from the waist down...
  • No Ending: After Joe finishes showing Sharla why you shouldn't try and double cross him (involving an interesting use of a chicken leg), Chris comes home and pulls a gun on Joe after he announces Dottie and him are getting married. Sharla stabs Chris in the back, and she, Joe, and Ansel proceed to savagely kick the shit out of him, including bashing his face in with a can of pumpkin pie filling. Dottie picks up Chris' dropped gun, and shoots her father Ansel in the gut, and then appears to fatally shoot her brother in the chest. She then announces that she's having a baby, prompting an overjoyed reaction from Joe. She then trains the gun on him, puts her finger on the trigger, and.........roll credits.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Chris receives an absolutely devastating one from Digger's men and also a vicious but shorter one from Joe in the finale.
  • Not So Stoic: Considering that Joe was The Stoic during the whole film, his cheerful reaction when Dottie reveals that she is pregnant can be seen as funny and disturbing at the same time.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Dottie is kind of dumb, but seems to have some notion of what is going on.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction by all characters when they discover that the life insurance policy is made out to Rex, not Dottie.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: After Sharla opens the front door and gives Chris (and the audience) a beaver shot, he begs her to get dressed.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: For starters, before you decide to kill someone for insurance money, you should confirm that you actually will get that money.
  • Professional Killer: Joe doubtless makes far more money doing that than he does as a policeman, as he charges $20,000 per hit.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Chris is babbling about wanting to back out of the murder deal when Joe opens up his trunk and reveals Adele's corpse inside.
  • Questionable Consent: Dottie and Joe's sex scene. He first orders her to undress, then manually stimulate him before having sex with her. In no case does he seem to care what Dottie thinks, and though she complies it's dubious that he'd care. She may also may well be intimidated by the fact he's a hitman, and feel afraid to resist or object to this. Her attitude is hard to read, but Dottie never shows much discernible enthusiasm. Joe also says she's his "down payment" for the hit, with a huge implication of legal entitlement (i.e. he wouldn't take "no" for an answer from her).
  • Redemption Equals Death: Chris refuses to hand Dottie over to Joe, and dies for it.
  • Reluctant Fanservice Girl: Dottie, though Joe at least turns around as she takes her underwear off.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Clarence Carter's Strokin' gets used in two odd instances: Once when Chris gets beaten by Digger's goons and another time right at the end credits after the film's No Ending.
  • Thunder = Downpour: On more than one occasion a clap of thunder is followed by torrential rain.
  • Title Drop: "Killer Joe" is referred to by that name at least twice.
  • Trashcan Bonfire: There's one outside the Smith trailer every night, it seems.
  • The Unreveal: Whether Dottie shoots Joe. Though her putting her finger on the trigger implies she does.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: In addition to being Villain Protagonists, the protagonists also count as this in a very dark way.
  • Villain Protagonist: Arguably every major character with the exception of Dottie.
  • Violence Is Disturbing
  • Would Hit a Girl: Not only does Joe have no qualms about murdering women, but he gives Sharla a bloody nose near the end of the movie to make a point.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sharla is having an affair with Rex, Adele's boyfriend. In fact, she is actually scheming with Rex to trick Chris and Ansel into having Adele killed.


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