Review: Killer Joe

Directed by: William Friedkin.

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon.

Rating:   Running Time: 103 mins.

I’ve neglected writing my review of this, things have taken me away from writing recently and since it’s soon to be given a limited release Stateside I figured I would get this out there.

Set in Texas, the movie opens with Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) turning up late one night at his father Ansel’s (Thomas Haden Church) trailer home, where he explans that his mother, who is divorced from Ansel, has stolen a quantity of drugs from him. Now, with no drugs and no money, his suppliers want the $6,000 that he owes them or they’re going to kill him. Desperate for the money, with no alternatives, Chris discusses a life insurance policy that he’s recently discovered his mother has, which upon her death would pay out the sum of $50,000 to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Ansel, not opposed to the idea, poses a valid question – Who would carry out the murder, and how?

Chris suggests that they hire a man he’s heard of, a police detective who moonlights in murder for hire and goes by the name Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey). Dottie, woken by the noise, overhears the end of the conversation and interrupts them, having no love for her mother who tried to kill her as an infant, she adds that she think’s it’s a good idea. Chris and Ansel, after agreeing to split the remaining money minus Joe’s fee between them, Dottie and Ansel’s wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), the two meet with Joe. Joe’s fee is $25,000 up-front, a sum the two do not have an issue with, apart from the up-front part. Joe goes to leave when he notices Dottie outside, and offers the idea of taking her as retainer for the job until he’s paid.

Written by Tracy Letts, the movie is based on her play of the same name. Director William Friedkin (probably best known for acclaimed thriller The French Connection and horror movie The Exorcist) has assembled an amazing cast for what can only be described as a black comedy with some grossly extreme violent and sexual undertones, so strong that the movie received the dreaded NC-17 rating from the American ratings board the MPAA, which will usually force directors to go back and re-edit their movies to attain the more desirable lower R rating. NC-17 is usually a death note to any theatrical release as the majority of cinemas won’t show it. Thankfully Friedkin did not choose to go down this path, choosing instead to leave the movie intact and release it uncut, where here in the UK it received the 18 rating from the British BBFC ratings board (the highest rating available for a non-pornographic movie).

The story is as messed up as the collection of characters, the majority of which are played as white trailer trash rednecks, with a surprising level of depth and credibility. Most surprising of all from the outset, is Emile Hirsch (last seen in the dreaded The Final Hour), here giving a career best performance along with the rest of the cast, but once he appears on screen, it’s clear that the real stand out of the movie is  Matthew McConaughey as the title character Killer Joe. McConaughey oozes calm, cool and collected in a performance that is worthy of (and hopefully will get) a nomination for best actor at the Academy Awards. He plays the character so cold and reserved, yet at crucial points during the movie, when that calm exterior is dropped, he really shows us the deprived and violent psychopath that is hiding beneath the surface in the best performance he’s ever given. Another performance worth mentioning is that of Juno Temple, as the strange and innocent Dottie. Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon also give great performances, though they do feel a little bit typecast in their roles.

Be warned, there is a strong undertone of denigration and hatred towards women, mixed in with an unhealthy dose of sexual sadism which at times makes for a very uncomfortable viewing, especially for any female viewers. One scene in particulay that has attained noteriety is the much talked about ‘chicken sequence’ and will test any audience member’s endurance. The scene intentionally tries to evoke a level of disgust whilst also being ludicrous that resulted in a mixture of shock and nervous laughter from the audience with which I saw the movie. Though none of the audience walked out, I can see why I’ve heard comments to the contrary from other reviews.

I went into the movie expecting it to be this year’s Drive which for me was the best movie of 2011, come the end of 2012 this movie will certainly be amongst my top 10 of the year, I’m not sure yet where it will come in that list, but it will be near the top. One for audiences with a strong stomach who want to see what a great ensemble cast can do when every one of them is at their best, but definately taken with a grain of salt.


Posted on July 14, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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