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.