Killer Joe Review
Texas. Chris (Emile Hirsch) owes a lot of money to a local gangster. Staying with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) and younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple), he and Ansel hatch a plan. They hire local cop Joe (Matthew McConaughey), who is a contract killer on the side, to do away with Chris' mother and Ansel's ex, Adele: Dottie will be the beneficiary of the life insurance. Joe agrees to this, but insists that Dottie be his “retainer” in case Chris doesn't pay up. It's soon clear that Chris is in over his head.
Throughout his career, William Friedkin has shown few qualms in dealing with some decidedly dark subject matter. No prude he, but films like Killer Joe tread the line between warts-and-all portrayals of his characters and outright misanthropy, and it's up to you to decide on which side this film falls. After the not-widely-shown Bug. this is the second film in a row he has made from a stage play by Tracy Letts (male). The film's theatrical origins are quite apparent, as it runs in lengthy scenes driven by dialogue. But don't forget that Friedkin has form in transferring stage work to the big screen: two of the four features he made before The French Connection are adaptations of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party and Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band. In Killer Joe the dialogue crackles and the cast are certainly up to the task. It's a well-made film, with excellent (digitally-captured) cinematography by Caleb Deschanel. It certainly satisfies for the ninety-odd minutes that it's on screen but is troubling in a few wrong ways.
The storyline of Killer Joe is a prime slice of noir, with twists and turns and revelations as to who is doing what to whom. However, you do have to ask yourself if Friedkin and Letts are simply observing this film's white-trash milieu, or are they looking down on it and/or revelling in its sleaziness? Joe becomes the film's default hero when the other two males are both distinctly dim-bulb and the two female leads are one trashy, the other Lolita-slutty (Temple looking much younger than she actually is) and both duplicitous. In addition to this, there's more nudity in this smallish-budget indie than you expect to see in an American movie nowadays. But it's hardly equal-opportunity, with both Gershon and Temple going full-frontal, the latter more than once. (Friedkin does throw in a gratuitous McConaughey butt shot though.) A key scene of exposition takes place in a strip club, with Friedkin making sure we get several close-ups. This culminates in a now-notorious scene I won't describe, just to say that it's unlikely to be authorised product placement for KFC. This is presumably a major reason why the MPAA gave this film a NC-17 rating, and I could well imagine the BBFC in the James Ferman era making cuts to it.
There's a lot to appreciate in Killer Joe, with strong work by McConaughey (seemingly reinventing himself, what with this and Magic Mike next week) in particular. But it does leave something of a nasty taste in the mouth afterwards.