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DVD review: 'Killer Joe'

Gene Triplett Modified: May 15, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: January 1, 2013

His mother is upbeat, down-home Oklahoma novelist Billie Letts, but you sure can’t tell it from playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts’ down-and-dirty works.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 play “August: Osage County” (now an upcoming 2013 film shot in Pawhuska and Bartlesville, starring Meryl Streep and Julia

 Roberts), the Tulsa-born Tracy Letts’ first play, 1993′s black comedy “Killer Joe,” was made into one of the best films of 2012, under the same name, directed by William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”), starring Matthew McConaughey as Dallas police detective “Killer” Joe Cooper — who moonlights as a contract killer.

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray, “Killer Joe” also stars Emile Hirsch as 21-year-old drug dealer Chris Smith, who’s in trouble with some nasty debtors and enlists the help of his dim-witted daddy Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to arrange the death of Adele — who is Chris’ mother and Ansel’s ex-wife — in order to collect on Adele’s $50,000 life insurance policy, of which Chris’ somewhat mentally damaged little sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary.

The play and the movie have both been hawked as “a totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story,” and the film lives every inch up to its billing. Letts obviously knows his characters, and under Letts’ screenplay adaptation and Friedkin’s tutelage, so do the actors, especially McConaughey as the black-hatted, black-leathered, black-sunglasses-wearing Joe, Church as the beer-swilling daddy, and Gina Gershon as the treacherous and scheming Sharla, Chris’ promiscuous stepmother and Ansel’s wife.

One of Tracy Letts’ influences, it has been written, is fellow Oklahoma writer Jim Thompson (“The Getaway,” “The Killer Inside Me,” “The Grifters”), and based on this wonderfully wicked piece of work, that must be true.

Special features include “Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen,” “SXSW Q&A with Cast,” “SXSW Intro by William Friedkin,” and “White Trash Red Band Trailer.”

— Gene Triplett


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