Killer Joe: the name says it all. Directed by William Friedkin, from Tracy Letts' adaptation of his own 1993 play, it's a slickly violent, darkly comical Texas trailer park noir -- about a killer named Joe -- whose bullets draw blood and laughs in equal measure. And while it's been making rounds at film festivals for nearly a year, the NC-17 film's Friday release date is suddenly fraught with tension, and thrusts the film to the center of a renewed national debate: in the wake of the tragic massacre at movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, some accuse movies of inspiring violence.
Matthew McConaughey, who in his continued efforts to subvert his reputation as the resident easygoing charmer of middling romantic comedies unloads the bulk of the threats and carnage in the film, rang a thoughtful and cautious note on the topic while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter at a Cinema Society screening of the film in New York on Monday.
"Well, it’s a lot longer answer than I can give you now, but I will just say that is, one thing that we shouldn’t be saying in society when something like that happens anymore, we shouldn’t be saying ‘unbelievable,'" the 42-year old actor said. "It happens, and we don’t know the answer to it right now, but there’s definitely, people now more than ever, people can make a very murky line between reality and illusion.
"They can make a very murky line between the games that are played and civilization, without any thought of consequences at times," McConaughey continued. "And so, that’s a murky line and a dangerous line that we should consider somehow."
There was little to indicate that McConaughey believed movies should be muzzled; a national discussion is far different than censorship. However, his comments were far more measured than those of his director and screenwriter, who both found any notion that art can inspire violence ludicrous.
"I’m clearly on the side of the argument that say we simply reflect [violence in society]," Letts, a Pulitzer Prize winner for August: Osage County, said. "That crazy motherf----- [in Colorado] had an AR-47 and 6000 rounds of ammunition. Anybody who would point the finger at us and our little fried chicken movie, as opposed to the ability to buy 6000 rounds of ammunition, is out of their goddamn mind."
When told that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh had blamed violent Batman movies for the massacre, Letts added, "There you go -- consider the source."
Friedkin, for his part, was even more vociferous in his rejection, wholesale, of the cinema's culpability.
"That’s an isolated act by a madman," the Oscar-winner (The French Connection) responded. "They asked him what his favorite movies were. You know what he answered? Star Wars and Dumb and Dumber. Now which one of those do you think caused him to go out with an automatic weapon and off a bunch of people? This guy was into Star Wars and Dumb and Dumber."
In fact, Friedkin didn't even buy James Holmes' red-haired, maniacal mutterings to police. That, the director said, was a cop-out.
"It didn’t matter that it was a Batman movie; he says he was The Joker, this is now an act so he can look insane," Friedkin posited. "He was not insane. He premeditated that. He bought 6000 rounds of ammunition, he was eligible to buy guns and ammo, he set it up, he booby trapped his room; there’s no insanity, other than to say anyone that kills someone in cold blood is insane at the moment. He should go to the gas chamber. This was premeditated. This wasn’t the work of an insane guy. And what he’s doing now, I believe, is feigning insanity, because I don’t think he wants to meet his maker at this point in his life."
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin