‘Must see’ movie : Killer Joe

From master filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), comes Killer Joe, a Texan crime-thriller starring Matthew McConaughey as a hitman hired to kill his client’s own mother for a life insurance windfall. Matthew McConaughey, a baddie? Surely not, we hear you say? But it’s true. If you’ve never seen him in anything other than romantic comedies; well, the boy can act. Sticking with that cocky confidence and charm that has served him so well, and lined his pockets for far too long, he’s taken that and given his whole persona a sinister tinge of madness.

Based upon Tracey Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, the movie follows the very same narrative; Southern white-trash, trailer park family dysfunction at it’s most dysfunctional. Chrs (Emile Hirsch) is a ne’er-do-well who gets into heavy debt with a local gangster (Marc Macaulay) and persuades his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to hire a hitman in order to kill his ex-wife for the insurance money. With Chris’ little sister Dottie (Juno Temple) set as the beneficiary, Ansel duly agrees, but not before his vampish new wife Sharla (go-to white-trash favourite Gina Gershon) has demanded her cut. However, when Chris and Ansel hire detective-slash-hitman Joe (Matthew McConaughey), they’re unable to raise the money to pay him up front, so Joe demands Dottie as his retainer and effectively moves into the trailer in order to be with her

Of course, plans are always best laid. And these ones go awry almost immediately

The performances are terrific, particularly McConaughey, who plays on his usual smooth talking charm to extremely chilling effect. Temple is equally good as the seemingly innocent Dottie, whose burgeoning sexuality is exploited by pretty much everyone in the film; her scenes with McConaughey are both shocking and disturbing to watch. There’s also strong support from both Hirsch (scrappy, motor-mouthed) and Haden Church (taking his usual laid back persona to an amusing extreme), while Gina Gershon is superb as Sharla

Friedkin maintains tight control of the material throughout, culminating in a terrifically tense and powerfully shocking final act that takes place around the dinner table: one particularly memorable moment involves Joe, Sharla and a piece of K-fried-C chicken drumstick, in an extremely dark, horrifically uncomfortable and deeply weird scene that’s surely headed for cult status

If there’s a problem with the film, it’s only that it occasionally struggles to escape its stage-bound origins, to the point where, if you didn’t know beforehand that it was based on a play, you’d be in no doubt by the end

Killer Joe is pitched somewhere between Jim Thompson and Tennessee Williams, with Friedkin combining both the pulpy, Southern-fried thriller elements of Thompson and the heady sexual undercurrents of Williams, to frequently delirious, deliciously overwrought effect

With its gritty tone and drama Killer Joe is reminiscent of the likes of No Country for Old Men, There Will be Blood and True Grit, but whereas these films were more complex and subtle in their handling of themes, Killer Joe functions more as a straightforward in-your-face dark thriller, concentrating its appeal on its compelling plot, suspense, and fantastically acted grotesque characters. This is not to its discredit however, as it is, despite some gruesome and distinctly unwatchable scenes, a very watchful and involving film, the kind you enjoy in spite of yourself and the kind of thing that William Friedkin does best

One thing’s for certain – you’ll never look at a piece of fried chicken in the same way again!

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July 11, 2012

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