KILLER JOE (2011) – The Dungeon Review!
I have enjoyed a good deal of William Friedkin’s work so I was pretty excited when I read he was directing a new film. Killer Joe is based on a play by Tracy Letts who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Killer Joe feels very much like a stage play in its presentation with its long lingering scenes and its character-driven action. It also benefits greatly from its casting; the performances really are superb, I had warm feeling for Friedkin’s 2006 film Bug (also written by Letts) but I would have to say that Killer Joe is his grittiest and best in years.
Killer Joe begins on a stormy night in a trailer park. Chris Smith has been kicked out of the house again and has come to his father’s place for refuge. Chris is in some serious shit with drug dealer Digger. His mother Adele sold his coke and now he has to come up with $6000. Chris discovers his mother holds a $50,000 life insurance policy to be left to his sister Dottie. Adele is not a popular lady and it doesn’t take much for Chris to convince the rest of the family that they should hire someone to kill her. Enter Killer Joe. Joe Cooper is a Detective with the Dallas Police; a well-groomed, polite, Southern gentleman and part-time hired killer. Joe works strictly on a cash up front basis but makes an exception for the Smiths if they agree to allow Dottie; the youngest Smith to act as a retainer.
Killer Joe is a darkly humourous, sexually charged, brutal bit of Kentucky fried craziness. This family is pure trash. When we first meet Sharla Smith she is opening the door to let in her step-son with her big hairy bush on display. We learn early that Sharla is having an affair. Dad of the year Ansel Smith agrees to use his own daughter as a retainer to appease a psychotic killer. This is not good parenting. Ansel however is so bloody thick I almost felt sorry for him. Chris Smith seems like a guy who is no stranger to trouble. Chris is a touch hyper, has a short temper and a smart mouth. There is no love lost between Sharla and Chris who throw insults at each other on a regular basis. Chris does have a soft spot for his sister however, and perhaps a bordering on unhealthy one. Dottie Smith is a sweet, complicatingly simple gal who is being corrupted by her no good family. Detective Joe Cooper does his part to completely shake up each character’s world.
Killer Joe’s performances are all top-notch. Killer Joe is heavily character-oriented and the camera lingers leisurely over their interactions. Emile Hirsch (Chris Smith), Gina Gershon (Sharla Smith) and Thomas Haden Church (Ansel Smith) are all perfect in their roles; but the real show stoppers here were Juno Temple and Matthew McConaughey. Dottie is a sweet girl who has maintained an innocence despite her family’s influence. Dottie is an enthralling and likable character who is played beautifully by the fresh-faced Juno Temple. Joe Cooper’s presence demands attention. The well-mannered Detective is as courteous as he is intimidating. There is a sense from the start that underneath Joe’s controlled composure is a complete psychopath. You get a big heaping spoonful of Joe’s dark side that you won’t soon forget! Matthew McConaughey is brilliant in this role.
Killer Joe is a crime thriller with some meat on its bones. There are a few scenes that will challenge some viewers. The film is not without its scenes of violence including a few severe and graphic beatings but the mother of them all is the Kentucky fried humiliation scene. There are reviews all over the place that will give you details but I rather not spoil it for you. It is an extremely effective scene that left me slack-jawed and I am not left slack-jawed easily. Killer Joe’s finale is another real humdinger; I fucking loved it! Each scene is a perfectly framed vignette that gave me guilty voyeuristic feelings like I was peeping through some strangers window.
Killer Joe is a solid crime thriller; it is brutal, funny, perfectly cast and well-acted. I’ve never seen Matthew McCongaughey give a better performance. Killer Joe is highly recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5
Directed By: William Friedkin
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Marc Macaulay