The mighty William Friedkin’s 2012 thriller, 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. It’s easy to see why this wasn’t a huge hit at the box office – it grossed $1.9 million in the US and just $4.6 million globally – not that it matters.
Killer Joe can’t manage to totally distance itself from its stage origins – the screenplay by Tracy Letts was based on his own 1993 stage play. 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.