EXCLUSIVE: The William Friedkin-directed black comedy Killer Joe will be released by LD Entertainment on July 27 with an NC-17 rating. The film received that rating in late February, and the decision was made after the distributor and filmmaker unsuccessfully went through the appeals process before deciding they didn’t want to change the ending.
An adaptation of the Tracy Letts play, Killer Joe is the first release by LD Entertainment after Mickey Liddell formed the distribution company late last year and hired veteran indie executive David Dinerstein to run it. It’s not the first time Friedkin turned in a cut of a film that drew a dreaded rating from the MPAA. While Friedkin tackled rough subject matter in films like The Exorcist and To Live And Die In L.A., he got an X-rating for the 1980 film Cruising, in which Al Pacino played a detective who goes undercover looking for a killer preying on gay men. Friedkin said he had to cut 40 minutes of that movie to get an R rating. But he won’t have to cut a frame of Killer Joe. LD Entertainment will release a trailer for the film tomorrow, and it will wear the NC-17 rating like a red badge of courage.
It is a somewhat surprising development considering the pedigree of Friedkin and Letts, the latter of whom won both the Pulitzer and Tony for August: Osage County. Killer Joe is a garish, sexy black comedy that stars Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church. It is provocative, but played strongly in Venice, Toronto (where it was acquired by LD Entertainment) and SXSW.
LD Entertainment’s Dinerstein confirmed the decision and issued this statement: “We support the artistic integrity of our filmmakers — Academy–award winning director, William Friedkin and our screenwriter Pulitzer-Prize winner Tracy Letts — and the film will be released in theaters on July 27th in its original version as an NC-17 film. The film has played to enthusiastic crowds at the Venice, Toronto and SXSW Film Festivals where many critics have noted this is Matthew McConaughey’s best performance to date. As our initial LD Entertainment release, we are to excited to bring this very entertaining, funny and provocative film to audiences this summer.”
This will be the first significant film released with NC-17 since the Steve McQueen-directed Shame. Fox Searchlight co-presidents Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula acquired that film at Toronto last year, right after viewing it in Telluride. The deal stipulated that not a frame of the film would be cut, and it was clear all along that the film would be NC-17. The feeling was that McQueen’s direction, and the performances of Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, made Shame Oscar bait. Despite glowing reviews, Shame was shut out of the nominations by Oscar voters, and Utley and Gilula wondered if voters ever even bothered to watch the film because of its rating. In the U.S., Shame grossed just $3.9 million of its $17.7 million worldwide total.
Here is an early clip from Killer Joe: