An uphill battle for “Killer Joe”

Every couple of years or so, there comes a film that gets some momentum prior to its release. Internet blabber says it may be one of the best films of the year, but just months before its release, it gets hit by a big ol’ baseball bat to the stomach, hurting any potential chance of success. What am I talking about? The film, despite all the hoorah gets slapped with the dreaded and debilitating NC-17 rating. This year the film slapped with this rating goes to “Killer Joe,” the second film collaboration between legendary director William Friedkin and writer Tracy Letts, after 2006’s “Bug.” The film is set to open today in some theaters.


Considering what I have heard about the film, I’m not shocked it got slapped with the rating. While I’m never a proponent of censorship of any kind, I am for the rating system. Sometimes I agree with the ratings and other times I don’t. This is one of those times I’m probably going to have to agree with the rating.

NOTE: If you do not want to hear even the slightest clue of why this film has been hit with the NC-17 rating or if you simply do not want to hear any slight spoiler, stop reading now.

As you can see from the trailer, “Killer Joe” obviously is a film with an immeasurable amount of violence, blood spatter and harsh language. Considering how many rated R films have an excessive amount of violence, blood spatter and harsh language, I highly doubt this plays any part in the NC-17 rating — for the most part at least. When I say most, I’m referring to one scene supposedly taking place in the film that deals with sexual violence, which is no surprise as pretty much whenever any film gets hit with the NC-17 rating it’s due to the sexual content. Due to the graphic details of said scene, I am not going to divulge the details on this blog, nor do I necessarily recommend seeking it out either. However, that’s not the point of this entry.

The point of this entry is that the film actually looks like it could be pretty damn good. The film itself actually looks fairly Tarantino-esque, minus less humor but with the addition of it being a much, much darker film. What I find most intriguing about the film (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) is the acting of Matthew McConaughy. Yes, you heard me. Matthew McConaughy’s acting. Typically whenever I see McConaughy attached to a film, I have trouble taking him seriously. He typically comes off as a good ol’ southern boy who appears to be stoned out of his mind. This demeanor about him also I may add isn’t too distant from his real-life persona. However, in the trailer above, I don’t think of his goofy persona he has portrayed in the past. I actually got pumped up for the film due to what actually, shockingly, looks like a stellar performance.

Where am I going with this? While I don’t agree in altering the vision of the writer and director, once they got the NC-17 rating, if I were them, I would’ve tried to see if there was a way to alter the scene in question or maybe do more implying than doing. There are creative ways in showing provocative, sexual acts on film. Hell, I’ve seen a number of films that were extremely shocking on a sexual/violent level that managed to obtain an R-rating.

My point is this, for a film that looks this good and has some serious potential, this filmmaking tandem should have been smarter and tried their best to get that R-rating. In fact, it’s downright stupid they didn’t try. Just by seeing that trailer, McConaughy I think had a serious shot at Oscar contention. It also probably would’ve had a decent, albeit still niche following in theaters. However, with an NC-17 rating both of those things are most likely out the window. Theaters are very hesitant to carry NC-17 films; in fact, opening weekend, “Killer Joe” is only playing in three theaters in New York. While I think we can guarantee at some point, it’ll play in Los Angeles, don’t be entirely shocked if it ends there, they cut their losses and pull it from theaters for an eventual DVD/Blu-ray release. Even a film town like Chicago may not pick up the film if no one goes to see it in New York and LA.

When something like this happens, the less likely a film is to get nominated, including acting nominations. A lot of times, certain distributors and filmmakers will file an appeal for the rating. This was the case in 2010’s “Blue Valentine.” What helped that film get it to an R-rating though had to do with two things. The first is that it was appealed by the very successful Weinsteins, who have made a history of turning everything they touch into gold. Secondly, the scene in question was simply sexual, wasn’t over the top and had a leg to stand on in its dispute. The filmmakers for “Killer Joe,” I’m guessing, knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on if they were to merely appeal without doing a re-edit.

The bottom line here is that I understand artistic integrity. I applaud it. I would be fiercely defensive if either the MPAA or the studio of a film told me I had to alter a scene due to the explicit nature, despite it being in the script. I for one absolutely dread it when producers try to alter scripts as they tend to destroy the impact of the film. However, I think in this particular case, the filmmakers are shooting themselves in the foot by not altering the film. Hell, if they really want that part to stay then they should compromise by releasing it on DVD/Blu-ray with the uncut version or maybe have select screenings of the NC-17 cut. At the end of the day, this is filmmaking suicide, and I truly hate to see hard working talent go unnoticed.


  1. Well, I’m going to see it!

  2. I hadn’t even heard of this film except perhaps in the far off distance, and my perspective of Matthew is similar to yours so now I’m super intrigued to see something you deem Oscar-worthy. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. andreaostrovletania · · Reply

    What can be more violent than flesh-eating zombie movies? But they don’t get rated NC-17.

    1. Exactly. It seems almost never a film gets an NC-17, at least nowadays, due to violence. Typically, it’s usually done due to something sexual in the film, which is what I believe the case is here.

  4. I didn’t realize NC-17 meant it was “worse” than an “R” film. I never bothered to look it up, since I don’t consider ratings when I go see a film.

    I’m with you on McConaughy, ha. He’s not my favorite, so you’ve intrigued me with your praise, I’ll have to go — rent it :^)

  5. I haven’t seen the film and honestly I’ve been avoiding finding out what precisely has elicited this NC-17 rating (I want to see it with a fresh perspective) so I don’t know quite know if I have any grounds for presenting an opposing opinion, but in any case, I will.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with your position that they should alter the scene in any way. Filmmaking suicide? Perhaps mainstream suicide, but who cares, really? You say you understand artistic integrity and then immediately propose they relegate what could potentially be the most striking and influential scene of the film to a DVD release. If I were an actor I would value being in an honest, uncompromising piece of work unbelievably higher than taking part in something I believed in, only to have it significantly altered to appease an academy whose decision-making process and enterprise as a whole have become nothing more than a joke. Does not their aversion toward nominating NC-17 films underline their hollowness? SEVENTEEN. I think it’s fantastic they’re not appealing it. This system needs to be ruptured so that adults can actually start going to the movies again and be affected by real material. Go tell Lars von Trier to cut some scenes from Antichrist so it’s palatable for a 16 y/o audience.

    1. Well, the thing is it’s more than about these films being difficult to nominate for awards, it’s the fact that the majority of the theater system won’t carry it, which personally is the real problem. If more theaters were to carry NC-17, I wouldn’t want the film to censor itself and I would like “Killer Joe” to keep this rating, but the problem is, most people will not see this film…or at least not until it makes it to DVD/Blu-Ray now. The bigger issue though is that I don’t even understand what the problem is with theaters carrying NC-17 films. It’s a rating like all other ratings, and the rating will be enforced. I don’t think showing a film such as this is going to hurt the name of any theater chain. I hope my prediction is actually wrong in this case and more theaters pick this film up; however, I don’t think this will be the case. I only wanted this film to be maybe slightly edited so more people could see it (it’s amazing what a slight edit can do), because I DON’T believe in cutting it merely because it’s too risque; it’s simply because I want people to see this film. It deserves to be seen, but I don’t merely think they should alter it just because of content.

  6. asterisk * photography · · Reply

    After your review I will definitely go to see it but I totally agree. Creativity needs to be balanced with commercial concerns. Kim*

    1. Well, yes and no. I don’t agree that films need to be cut to the most common denominator, but when the theater system outright refuses to show these films, the creative need to try to compromise so people can actually see the film outside of a handful of theaters.

  7. So I’m curious. A simple yes or no will do. But is the NC-17 rating coming from the part that involves a KFC chicken leg? I saw the play two years ago and I have to say, that scene was pretty shocking. Especially when you’re not even remotely expecting it!

    1. From what I have heard, yes that is the scene.

  8. I’m looking forward to KJ myself. NC-17 be damned.

  9. Great Blog, I agree, I hate it when films like this come out, look amazing but then aren’t widely enough applauded because of the rating, McConaughey actually looks really good in this which is surprising, looking forward to seeing it now and I wouldn’t have actually known about it if I hadn’t stumbled upon your Blog!

    1. Thanks. I hope you get to see it as I hope I get to see it. It just might take a little research and a longer distance of a drive to be able to do so.

  10. Alyssa · · Reply

    Great review! I’ll definitely watch this. BTW, I’ve read this entire entry and I love spoilers. Cheers to you. :D

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  11. I’ve always been a fan of matthew mcconaughey movies, I will definitely add this to my list of movies to watch.

    Excellent blog, I really enjoyed your insight. Keep up the good work. It is hard to find interesting blogs such as your own, so I also enjoy reading an informative and entertaining blog such as your own. Please visit for information and disease prevention and healthy food and drink recipes.

  12. chandlerswainreviews · · Reply

    Never, repeat, never compromise artistic integrity. The second you do, the concept of integrity is over. Finished. The MPAA will not specify their problems with films nor help with cuts. You must simply concede to their decision and cut and slash until that bunch of yokels are satisfied. Repeat, never compromise. Realistically, if they cut it and get an R rating, do you really think the theaters will be climbing over themselves to saturation book from coast to coast? Against the latest Marvel/DC snorefest du jour? Let’s be sensible about this.

    1. I don’t know about in this case, but there have been instances where the MPAA has specified what makes a film NC-17 or not so that’s not true. Listen, I don’t like having to alter a film period, but putting all that hard work into a film that no one is going to see is downright depressing. One of the main reasons filmmakers make movies is to have people SEE them though and in this case, it’s gonna be hard.

      As for the second part of your comment though, in no way, shape or form do I think this is a film that’s going to garner the attention that the absurd amount of superhero movies are getting. It’s not that kind of film; however, I think had it gotten an R-rating, it’s very possible the filmmakers could’ve broken even or possibly made a few bucks from their $10 million investment. The problem now is unless it makes an absolute killing on DVD, they’re going to come up with a loss on investment, which is a damn shame.

      I do want to make one thing clear though. It is too late for any change. It just aggravates me that this continues to happen to some good, quality adult films on occasion that have to suffer the NC-17 rating. Mind you, this is not such the MPAA’s fault as it is the theater system’s fault. Yes, the MPAA establishes the rating, but I agree with the rating system. There needs to be one. The theater system has gotten more and more conservative. Not only will it not show NC-17 films (which honestly if it has a rating, what difference does it make?) but it also won’t showcase other great, independent films that aren’t guaranteed hits.

  13. Some very interesting stuff. It isn’t everyday I find something worth reading on the web.

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