Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon
Plot: In debt, Chris (Hirsch) hatches a plan with his family to assassinate his mother to claim her life insurance. To do this, he turns to the dangerous, unpredictable cop/assassin, Killer Joe (McConaughey).
This movie was a difficult one to review for me. Personally I did not like this movie. It’s so dark that rather than appreciating the tone, I was repulsed by the graphic violence and the extended implied sexuality. However, while not enjoying the film, I do have to admit that director Friedkin was spot-on with everything he set out to do. Therefore, I found myself respecting Killer Joe, even if I didn’t fully enjoy it.
The film introduces us to the nastiest group of rednecks living in the sticks of Texas we have seen in movie history for a while. Chris is a slacker with illusions of grandeur that starts the movie by announcing he owes money to a local gangster. The first ten minutes see him shouting his head off to his semi-nude stepmother, while his dad looks on apathetically. While Chris is the nasty one, stepmum Sharla is foul-mouthed and plotting, while dad Ansel is little more than an onlooker on the side-lines. He keeps quiet for an easy life, ignoring the events that are happening, even though everyone can tell his wishes for an easy life are way out of the question. The only one worth liking is the younger sister, Dottie, who is often in her own little world, detached from the violence of the movie. Together, they plan to hire an assassin by the name of Killer Joe to assassinate Chris’s mother and let Dottie claim her life insurance. Of course, it doesn’t go to plan, especially when Joe develops a fondness for Dottie.
This film was based on a play and that much is clear throughout. It is a very minimal setting, mostly shot in the cramped home of the Smiths. There is a strong resemblance to the genius of playwright, Tennessee Williams here with the Southern American family unit crumbling in on itself. The climax of the film is one long scene, the actors bouncing off each other superbly. The story and dialogue crackles around the scene, building up and up until it reaches the final heart-pounding frame. Again, I did not like this movie, but it didn’t stop me from getting pulled into the intricate layers of story and plot. I appreciate every move Friedkin makes.
The director is just so in control of the material. He lets the actors do their own thing, yet at the same time moulds them into the ideal image. He shoots the characters into the portrait he wants to create. Dottie is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Joe is charming, yet at the same time revoltingly violent. Nudity is portrayed as hideous (no offense to the actors). At the centre of this movie is Matthew McConaughey in his most shocking role yet. He holds the film together, using the sharp script with expert precision. His main goal here for him is to escape this idea that he is little more than a chick flick hunk and he definitely does that. You will never look at the actor in the same way again.
The story keeps you hooked to the very end. You might have to stick with it, as it is a very slow-burning flame. However, as the climax hits, Friedkin hits us with twist after twist, never letting the story get in the way of the actors doing their thing. Yes, you will see most of the twists coming from a mile off, yet Friedkin finds a way to keep them exciting nonetheless. The cliffhanger ending might dissuade some, but my advice is to enter this film expecting the stage show. All of the little quirks that made audiences hate this film (the slow pace, the violence, the finale) is very common in theatre. With a few stage shows under your belt, you will appreciate Killer Joe’s style more.
But I must come back to the point that, despite Friedkin hitting every note, I still did not like the film. It was just too dark for me. The extended violence got a little too much. There is a scene near the end where Killer Joe forces one of the characters to suck a chicken leg, implying oral sex. The scene does not cut away until the act is complete and your skin will be crawling by the end of it. The final moment where the family turn on one of their own is brutal and repulsive to watch. I had to watch this film in chunks. It was too much for me to behold in one go. So yes, Killer Joe is fantastic for what it is, but might prove to be too dark a taste for many.
Final Verdict: Dark and compelling, yet the story takes you to places you didn’t really want to go. Yet you cannot help appreciate Friedkin’s direction and McConaughey’s performance.