When William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) turns his attention to the greed, desperation and opaque morality of the once gentile American south; it results in a KFC bucket full of cine-sadism that leaves the metallic taste of blood in your mouth.
When a gambling debt puts Chris’ (Emile Hirsch) life in danger; he and his white trash family (Thomas Hayden Church, Juno Temple and Gina Gershon) agree that hiring a hit man – ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaghey) – to dispose of his ‘evil’ mother in order to collect the insurance money is the best solution.
Friedkin drops you into the desolation and filth of white trash Texas. The dilapidated abandoned shops and oppressive trailer park mud pits form the stage for desperate valueless souls to seek a solution. There’s such nonchalance prevalent in every characters value of life. The drama is generated by this gaggle of inept people fulfilling their commitments to a ruthless and meticulous Killer. Friedkin simmers the audience with questions about the economic inequality, lack of education, mutated morality all the way to one of the most disturbing crescendo that this reviewer can remember.
McCounahey’s Killer Joe is an incredibly rich performance. He cultivates Joe’s aesthetic ‘brand,’ he obsesses with the accessories of his profession and cleanliness. The compulsive neatness, and general narcissistic quality (that McConaghey lives) also brews an opportunistic sexual corruption. He’s staunch and direct in his posture for killing, and sways and contorts when he’s tapped into that inner desire. Temple’s Dottie is a fascinating concoction. She’s a clearly stunted and damaged teen, exploited as currency in this murderous transaction, and yet there’s something amiss. There’s an elusive hint that you’re being deceived, like the innocence is a mask to something more sinister. In moments she’s being exploited, instead of debilitating fear, she coolly adapts to the situation; and for a shut in, she handles a gun like she’s had training. Temple surrenders herself to a revealing and harrowing ordeal as Dottie. Since Emile Hirsch’s breakout performance in Into the Wild more and more of his characters feel contrived. Hirsch’s portrayal of Chris unfortunately cannot divorce itself from feeling distinctly like a character being performed, and momentarily pulls you out of some key scenes. Gina Gershon’s step-mother from hell is the most assertive and ballsy of the bunch. She’s smart enough to exploit the idiots in her family but not smart enough to conceal her manipulations from Joe. Gershon commits to a scene that involves a beating and a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken (‘Kay Fry C’) that left me writhing with discomfort in my seat.
Tracy Letts’ screenplay etches vivid portraits of deplorably ugly people. Aside from the (questionably) innocent Dottie, and the oxymoron of the courteous and brutal Joe there’s a universal streak of amorality, and ignorance in every word that drips from the faces of the characters. Scenario after scenario, the worst aspects of human behaviour and the worst evolution of consumerist America.
Killer Joe is America at its worst but Friedkin and McConaghey at very close to their best.
[rating=4] and a half.
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Tracy Letts (screenplay), Tracy Letts (play)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Hayden Church and Juno Temple