Killer Joe (film)

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Killer Joe
Killer Joe (film).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Friedkin
Produced by
Screenplay byTracy Letts
Based onKiller Joe
by Tracy Letts
Music byTyler Bates
CinematographyCaleb Deschanel
Edited byDarrin Navarro
Distributed byLD Entertainment
Release date
  • September 8, 2011 (2011-09-08) (Venice)
  • July 27, 2012 (2012-07-27) (United States)[1]
Running time
102 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[3]
Box office$4.6 million[4]

Killer Joe is a 2011 American Southern Gothic[5] black comedy crime film directed by William Friedkin. The screenplay by Tracy Letts is based on his 1993 play of the same name. The film stars Matthew McConaughey in the title role, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church. Friedkin and Letts had also collaborated on the 2006 film Bug.


In West Dallas, Texas, 22-year-old drug dealer Chris Smith comes to the house of his father Ansel and step-mother Sharla, after his mother, Adele, threw him out of her house. To make matters worse, Adele stole his cocaine money and spent it on repairing her car, and now Chris is desperate to pay off his debt to his dealer, Digger Soames, so he decides to murder his mother to collect the $50,000 life insurance of which his sister Dottie is the sole beneficiary. Assuming Dottie would share the money with Chris and their father, Chris manages to rope the dim-witted Ansel into hiring Joe Cooper, a police detective who has a side career as a contract killer, to kill Adele (Ansel's ex-wife) to get the money. Chris and Ansel decide that after paying Joe from the proceeds of the life insurance policy, they will split the remainder four ways between themselves, Dottie, and Ansel's wife Sharla. Dottie hears the plan as they are talking, and agrees that it's a good idea.

The plan almost fails when Joe demands all of the money in advance, but Chris and Ansel are broke. However, Joe is interested in young Dottie and offers to take her as a "retainer" until the insurance comes through. Through Dottie's interaction with Joe, it is revealed that Adele tried to kill Dottie once when she was an infant. Joe and Dottie start a relationship. Chris has a change of heart and asks him to call off the hit, only to discover that Joe has already killed Adele. With Chris's reluctant help, Joe hides the body in a car and torches it.

After Adele's death is discovered, the family learns that the insurance beneficiary is actually Rex, Adele's boyfriend, rather than her daughter Dottie. Chris then admits he originally heard the details about the policy from Rex, who also told him about Joe. Ansel then realizes that Rex duped Chris into hiring Joe to kill Adele. Immediately afterwards, Chris tries to talk Dottie into running away with him to escape Digger, who has already had two of his goons severely beat Chris up for not having repaid him. Dottie says she will go with him, but she must see Joe again first.

When Ansel and Sharla return home from Adele's funeral, they find Joe inside with Dottie. He comes out of her room and asks increasingly pointed questions of Sharla, which ultimately leads her to admit that she knew the policy was really $100,000 (accidental death is double). Joe shows them a check of that amount payable to Rex, as well as incriminating photos which prove Sharla was having an affair with Rex. Angered, Ansel declines to protect Sharla when Joe punches her and forces her to simulate oral sex on a fried chicken drumstick.

Joe knows Chris is coming to take Dottie away and he threatens to kill Ansel and Sharla if they don't stop him. After Chris is seated for dinner, Joe announces that he and Dottie will be married. Chris refuses to let them, ordering Dottie to leave with him; Joe tells her to stay where she is. For a moment Dottie sits there, then she gets up and turns. While the men yell out at her, Chris threatens Joe with a gun and the two struggle. Ansel and Sharla rush to assist Joe as he brutally beats Chris, not wanting to be killed by Joe if Chris flees with Dottie. 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[edit]

Cutting would not have made it mass appeal. Cutting it would have been the equivalent of what members of the United States government and military leaders said about the Vietnam War. They said, "We have to destroy Vietnam in order to save it," and that's what I would have done to Killer Joe. To get an R rating, I would have had to destroy it in order to save it and I wasn't interested in doing that.

—William Friedkin on why he refused to censor his film.[6]

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."[7] After an unsuccessful appeal, LD Entertainment announced plans to release the film uncut with the NC-17 on July 27, 2012.[1]

On October 23, 2012, the NC-17 rating was surrendered, and thus the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray with the NC-17 version released as the unrated director's cut in the United States.[8] An edited R-rated version was also released on DVD.[9] The edited R-rated version has the chicken leg scene heavily censored and has the beating of Chris by Joe during the film's climax substantially cut.


Killer Joe premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival[10] before making its North American debut at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival,[11] where US distribution rights were acquired by LD Entertainment.[12] LD Entertainment, Liddell's new theatrical distribution company headed by David Dinerstein, scheduled its release for July 2012.[13]

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.[14] The film received a theatrical release in the United Kingdom on June 29.[15] It opened in three theaters almost a month later (July 27) in the United States.[1]

Box office[edit]

The film was not a box office success, only grossing $1,987,762 in the domestic market and $2,645,906 internationally for a worldwide total of $4,633,668.[4] The film was only released in 75 theaters nationwide and closed on October 14, nine days prior to the rating being surrendered. The film had an estimated $10 million budget.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

Killer Joe has a rating of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 166 reviews, and an average rating of 6.88/10. The critics consensus on the website 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."[16] The film also has an average score of 62 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[17]

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."[18]

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."[5]

Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York named Killer Joe the fifth-best film of 2012, calling it a "thrilling black comedy."[19]


McConaughey received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead.[20] The Women Film Critics Circle, however, nominated the film for its display of the worst female and male images.[21]

Home media[edit]

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.[22]

TV series[edit]

On October 23, 2017, Friedkin announced that he is developing a series based on his film, but without McConaughey.[23]


  1. ^ a b c Shaw, Lucas (May 7, 2012). "LD Entertainment to Release 'Killer Joe' with NC-17 Rating". Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  2. ^ "Killer Joe (18)". British Board of Film Classification. May 21, 2012. Retrieved June 23, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Killer Joe (2011) – Box office / business". Internet Movie Database. August 12, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Killer Joe (2012) - International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. February 9, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Collin, Robbie (June 26, 2012). "Killer Joe, Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved July 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Brevet, Brad (July 25, 2012). "The William Friedkin Interview: Part 1 – Good vs. Evil, 'Killer Joe' and the MPAA." Rope of Silicon. Retrieved November 3, 2012.
  7. ^ Classification and Rating Administration, Motion Picture Association of America. "Reasons for Movie Ratings (CARA)".
  8. ^ MPAA Ratings Bulletin – 10/24/2012. Rope of Silicon
  9. ^ MPAA Ratings Bulletin – 10/31/2012. Rope of Silicon
  10. ^ "Venezia 68: International competition of feature films". Venice. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  11. ^ Lambert, Christine (2011), "Killer Joe premiere – 36th Toronto International Film Festival",, retrieved January 6, 2012
  12. ^ "TORONTO TOLDJA! Mickey Liddell Acquires William Friedkin's 'Killer Joe'". Toronto. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
  13. ^ "Mickey Liddell Launches Indie Distribution Company With Paramount Classics Co-Founder David Dinerstein at Helm". Los Angeles. Retrieved December 12, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Edinburgh International Film Festival Opens in Style". zConnection. Retrieved June 23, 2012.
  15. ^ "Cineworld Cinemas: Killer Joe". Cineworld. Archived from the original on June 23, 2012. Retrieved June 23, 2012.
  16. ^ "Killer Joe Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Chang, Justin (September 8, 2011). "Killer Joe". Variety. Retrieved July 6, 2012.
  19. ^ Uhlich, Keith (December 13, 2012). "Keith Uhlich's Ten Best Movies of 2012". Time Out New York. Archived from the original on December 19, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  20. ^ Kilday, Gregg (November 27, 2012). "'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Moonrise Kingdom' Dominate Independent Spirit Awards Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  21. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (December 22, 2012). "'Zero Dark Thirty' fares well with Women Film Critics Circle". HitFix. Retrieved January 10, 2013.
  22. ^ "News: Killer Joe (US – DVD R1 | BD RA) – DVDActive". DVDActive. November 1, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  23. ^ Kohn, Eric. "William Friedkin Is Developing 'Killer Joe' TV Series With 'Million Dollar Baby' Producer — Exclusive". Retrieved October 23, 2017.

External links[edit]