William Friedkin is one of the most respected directors in Hollywood. He has been for some time, cranking out some of the biggest hits of the early 70s and by creating films that have always been challenging for him to make and challenging for viewers. He brought The French Connection to the big screens in 1970 and dazzled audiences with its violence and car chases. Then he frightened moviegoers for a generation by bringing William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist to movie houses.
Since then he has continued to bring films to the big screen – some of them successful and some not, but they have always been movies that critics and movie fans have noticed and discussed. His movie based on a play by Tracy Letts, Bug, in 2006 was a movie that left many viewers stunned, nauseated and disturbed. So, it seemed a natural thing for him to team up with Letts and adapt of another of his plays for the silver screen. This time it would be Letty’s critically acclaimed Killer Joe.
The movie has an all star cast. Matthew McConaughey turns in a performance that a few critics are saying is one of the best of his career as the titular character. He plays a cop who just happens to sideline as a contract killer. Emile Hirsch plays the trailer park trash son of a woman that everyone, including his father and sister, hate and want dead. When Hirsch’s character gets in trouble with drug dealers who want money, he decides the best way to get the money is to hire Joe and have his mother killed for the insurance money.
The play was known for its brutality and nudity. The film, apparently, decided not to spare any of that. Friedkin made the film in just 20 days, filming in Louisiana, despite the movie being set in Texas. The movie should have hit theaters in 2011. In fact, it was ready for distribution, premiered at the 68th Venice Film Festival and then was shown at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival. Then, however, Friedkin and his cast ran into a problem. That problem was the MPAA.
The violence and brutal nature of that violence within the film was causing the board that assigns the rating to films some serious problems. The contract killer also decides to hold a young girl as sexual collateral until the money is delivered. This also disturbed them. The MPAA slapped an NC-17 rating on the film. For almost any film, this is usually a death knell. Theaters do not carry NC-17 films because of the perception that they are porn.
LD Entertainment, the studio that produced and distributed the film, appealed the decision. After going back and forth for about a year, Friedkin and LD Entertainment decided to release the film uncut. That means, Killer Joe is now in a limited release, receiving great reviews, but may not be viewable by vast majorities of the movie-going audience.
The movie is earning raves from some of the top critics, but they have warned that the movie’s violence earns it the NC-17. The film is rolling out slowly, starting this weekend in New York, with more openings across the country throughout August.