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Yes, No, Maybe So: "Killer Joe"

Hey, that rhymes.

For those of you who don't know the name Tracy Letts, a brief history. The Oklahoman born playwright first came to minor fame as a member of Chicago's lauded theater collective Steppenwolf. Killer Joe was his first play, written in 1991. Over the next two decades his career as a playwright soared, first with the electric and very naked and delusional horror piece Bug (which became a misunderstood movie in 2006) and then he achieved the kind of across the board success that most artists will only ever dream of winning a Tony, a Pulitzer and critical and popular success with August: Osage County. (That super successful play is supposedly on its way to movie theaters in a year or two with Meryl Streep slurring her way through bitchy tirades as its drug addled matriach Violet Weston).

So, in short, a Tracy Letts project is a big deal. So here's screen transfer attempt #2... Killer Joe. Let's break down the trailer with our yes, no, maybe so system.  


  • Tracy Letts
  • "I heard y'all talking about killing mama" -if the movie has cuts with dialogue that pop this much (sometimes trailers rejigger the natural order of things) we're in for a treat.
  • Trashy smeary mascara'd Gina Gershon - surely something to savor!
  • Between Magic Mike and this film, Matthew McConaughey might finally be making good on what people said about his future when A Time to Kill premiered 16 long years ago.
  • The trailer suggests that the movie will be visually appealing with interesting compositions and color and unusually evocative single shots.
  • Those boots were made for walking closeups.
  • William Friedkin isn't afraid of attacking controversial material (Bug, The Exorcist, Cruising)
  • We always try to see NC-17 movies to support the rating. There's no reason why an "adults only" rating shouldn't be viable beyond boring predictable American puritanism. 


  • William Friedkin hasn't really connected with broader audiences (and critics) simultaneously since... The Exorcist which we just discussed.
  • The NC-17 is probably all about violence and there's more than enough of that in R rated movies. 
  • There are unarguably way too many movies that are all about assassins. 
  • There are unarguably way too many movies about organized crime and people who are over their heads and in tons of trouble financially.
  • I think Juno Temple is intriguing (see my take on Kaboom) and though I haven't read or seen Killer Joe, I think Letts writes fascinating female characters in Bug and August. But I worry that maybe women are only evil bitches (Gina?) and girlwoman victims (Juno?) and dead bodies (Mama with the insurance policy) here. If I didn't hate spoilers so much I could probably find out if this is an unfounded fear straightaway. But I don't want the plot spoiled.


  • Emile Hirsch doesn't always do it for me.
  • Matthew McConaughey doesn't often do it for me (but I admire his go-for-broke flavor)
  • William Friedkin doesn't always do it for me.
  • In fact the only people here I  unequivocally get excited about are Tracy Letts and  Gina Gershon... though I'll admit that in the case of the latter that's mostly because of her indelible mid 90s double Showgirls (1995) and Bound (1996). What has she done for me lately? 

Or rather: what does Hollywood ever let her do for us anymore? The last time I saw her was in the awful Love Ranch where she unsurprisingly played a whore. She was good but it was such a nothing part. 

Are you a YES NO or a MAYBE SO?

Have you seen Bug?
Have you seen August: Osage County?
What does Gina Gershon mean to you? 

Um... I guess I should share the trailer. So here you go. Be warned that it does seem very plotty, so if you want to go in cold, jump immediately to the comments.

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Reader Comments (13)

Reminding me of "The Killer Inside Me". :/

Still, Friedkin did good with "Bug" - he's probably pissed he can't make "August: Osage County", huh? - and the cast is good so it'll definitely be worth a look. What award organisation will bite and give McConaughey a Best Actor prize for this, "Mud" and "Magic Mike"?

As for "what does Gina Gershon mean to me?" Gina Gershon means doggy chow.

May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

The last time I remember seeing Gina was in demonlover. It was a good part. If Hollywood doesn't care about you, go looking for a job somewhere else, baby. This is what I call the Kristin Scott Thomas gambit. A lot of undervalued actresses should try.

I like the trailer, I love Friedkin, who's made a few masterpieces, like To Live and To Die in LA, Jade (yes, I mean it) and The French Connection. I am going to see it because of his name only.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I saw Bug, the movie, and appreciated it. I saw August: Osage County on Broadway and loved it. So I am officially a Tracy Letts fan and will see everything he writes until that strategy proves unentertaining. And I have a soft spot for 1970s auteurs. And Nina Gershon scares me a little, but in a good way. So I'm definitely a yes.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertimothy

i'm vaguely interested in this but that trailer just made me want to rewatch blood simple as soon as possible

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Hang on. Killer Joe is the second collaboration between Friedkin and Letts? I'm all yes on this one. Bug showed off both of their skills very well. Friedkin gets Letts. I just hope that Killer Joe is less stagey since that was the big critique of Bug.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

LOVE Gina Gershon...

calroth: I too liked "Jade" lol. Even though slimeball Joe Esztherhas wrote it. :)

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Saw August: Osage County in Chicago and it was one of the best theater experiences of my life (so sad Amy Morton won't be in the movie). Haven't seen anything else Letts has done, and while I TOTALLY agree with your 'No's' regarding assassins and the mob/people in over their head financially, I'm still probably going to see this.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Saw Killer Joe last year in Toronto. It is one of the most gleefully fucked up movies I've ever seen. There is a lot of violence, but I'd wager the NC-17 is due entirely to one of the most bizarre (and most graphically ungraphic) sex scenes ever filmed. Entire cast is outstanding. Friedkin directs like a guy with something to prove - which is to say, he knocks it out of the park. Letts adapts his own play - the dialogue is as good as you would hope. It will definitely not be for all tastes, but it's a great movie. Can't wait to see it again.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Glenn: McConaughey is a lead in this, yes, but he's probably supporting in Magic Mike and the adults (including McConaughey) might be supporting in Mud as well, depending on how much the teen characters are focused on.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Having seen Killer Joe onstage (which was QUITE the experience...) I would bet good money on the fact that the NC-17 is more about the sex, and one scene in particular (which Roark seems to confirm). I'm excited about this, especially since McConaughey seems very well-cast in this part, and since Friedkin did so very well by Letts with BUG, one of the best stage-to-screen adaptations in recent memory. And believe me when I say, Killer Joe is one twisted play. FAR more so than Bug (which is saying something), though in a different way.

And Gina Gershon... I love that crazy bitch so much! She absolutely deserves more, better work. Hopefully this will do something towards reigniting interest.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny


I saw BUG and I think it was awesome, boasting great performances from the everunderrated Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon

I never saw AUGUST but I'm really curious about the movie project (Streep and Roberts together?)

Gina Gershon means a lot to me and I'm very glad that she's working with a great director. She was amazing in SHOWGIRLS and even if her career in Hollywood hasn't always been thrilling, she's one of the sexiest and toughest female presence of american cinema in the last twenty years

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

From what I understand, the last bit of the movie gets a little, erm, rape-y, which I think might have something to do with the NC-17.

If I'm remembering that great Michelle Williams profile in GQ from last year correctly, she played the Juno Temple role on stage. Yeah?

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

It seems to me like this movie should have already been released a while ago. I mean, didn't it prepiere at a festival (Cannes? Venice?) almost a year ago?

Anyway, I have read August:Osage County and I quite liked it (though I like it less and less as time goes by) but that doesn't mean anything; this could be from brilliant to horrible.
Seems interesting so, maybe so.

May 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames T
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