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DVD Review: Killer Joe

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If there was one thing that I was starting to miss from Lionsgate, it was their ever-widening array of direct to video horror and suspense movies. While the “ever” part of ever-widening has become somewhat suspect in recent days, there’s a little bit of a push to get back into the fray represented by “Killer Joe”, a copy of which they sent our way for review.

“Killer Joe” follows the titular Killer Joe, more specifically, Joe Cooper. Cooper is a detective in Dallas by day, but who supplements his income at night by performing a much darker form of work: contract killing. A man named Chris contracts Cooper to kill his mother in a bid to get some life insurance money and pay off some debts, but a man in debt doesn’t have a lot of ready cash for things like hit men. So Chris needs an alternate form of payment for his retainer, and Cooper has just the payment in mind, taking Chris’ sister Dottie as a retainer. But will Chris be able to make the necessary payments? Will Cooper live up to his dark nickname? And will Dottie survive the experience, let alone her mother?

I confess to a note of caution going into this one as the titular contract killer was played by no less than Matthew McConaughey. I have about as much faith in McConaughey’s acting ability as I have in merangue’s suitability as a load-bearing surface. Thankfully, the rest of the cast, including commonly-terrific Thomas Haden Church, will do a significantly better job than McConaughey could ever do. And equally thankfully, even McConaughey is putting up some sound work here. The whole thing is better than could be readily expected, with some interesting shots of humor throughout. Even better, there will be some nicely clever twists tossed in for variety’s sake.

Special features in this one are reasonably plentiful if not necessarily Texas-sized. There’s a commentary track from director William Friedkin, a set of audio options and your choice of English or Spanish subtitles. There’s also a featurette on taking “Killer Joe” from stageplay to screen, a couple of South by Southwest-related features like a Q&A session with the cast and an introduction from, once again, William Friedkin, a red band trailer for “White Trash” and trailers for “Hesher”, “Winter’s Bone”, “Arbitrage”, and a preview for Epix.

“Killer Joe” is a surprisingly sharp bit of filmmaking. With sound performances all around it’s hard not to enjoy this one, though be duly warned that this will get a little bloody and a little weird in the last half, especially toward the last few minutes. But still, those who like their crime drama with a little edge and a little laugh should find this one amply palatable.

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