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The 25 Best Movies of 2012

20. Killer Joe

Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church

The power of a thunderous movie ending should never be underestimated. Even if everything that precedes a film’s closing scenes underwhelms, the last shot can send audiences out on a high that’ll make them forgive all of the inadequacies. Acclaimed director William Friedkin’s (The French Connection, The Exorcist) extremely pulpy and grimy, though unfairly NC-17-rated, Killer Joe has one of the craziest, entertainingly off-the-rails endings in recent years, but what makes it such a complete success is that the film as a whole is a victory.

In Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter Tracy Letts’ adaptation of his own 1993 play, Matthew McConaughey serves a smoldering, combustible turn as a seedy Dallas cop, nicknamed Killer Joe, whose side hustle involves killing folks for cash. His target of the moment is the good-for-nothing mother of a young, in-debt deadbeat (Emile Hirsch) from a dysfunctional trailer park family. Unable to pay Joe, Hirsch begrudgingly gives his cute space cadet of a little sister (Juno Temple) up as a “retainer.”

From there, Killer Joe fires on all trashy cylinders, gleefully offering up sex with a minor, corpses, brutal misogyny, and the most perverted use of a fried chicken leg imaginable. And the best part of it all: It’s a black comedy. One that’s simultaneously shocking and funny as hell.

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