William Friedkin’s Killer Joe is raw and visceral. It’s not a pleasant watch by any stretch of the imagination- but it is good. Very good. Friedkin has always been a director willing to push cinematic boundaries (see The Exorcist and Cruising) and he does it once more with this dark and twisted film.
The film follows a trailer trash family; Chris (Emile Hirsch), Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), Sharla (Gina Gershon) and Dottie (Juno Temple) as they plan the murder of Ansel’s ex-wife, in an attempt to snag a $50, 000 insurance policy. They call on ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a cop with a nifty sideline in contract killing. There’s just one problem, Chris and Ansel don’t have Killer Joe’s cash, so he takes a retainer – Dottie.
Killer Joe is filled with unlikeable characters, who all do very unlikeable things. However, it’s a performance piece, and luckily the performances are all first rate. The standout is McConaughey – he’s a revelation. The star takes his usual relaxed Texan persona and adds a layer of menace. It might just be a career defining performance for the actor who appears to have ditched commerciality and entered a new character-driven phase of his career. Anyone going to see the star of The Wedding Planner is going to be in for a big, big shock.
Killer Joe can’t manage to totally distance itself from its stage origins (it’s based on a play by Tracy Letts). That last act in particular is very set bound, but this does notch up the claustrophobia levels for a climax which is up there with Requiem for a Dream for sheer sexual brutality. It’s uncomfortable viewing, which will surely have Colonel Sanders spinning in his grave.
Killer Joe is recommended viewing – but be warned it’s not for the faint hearted or those who are easily offended.