Killer Joe * * * * 1/2
Director: William Friedkin.
Screenplay: Tracy Letts.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Marc Macauley, Sean O’Hara.
The last time I visited a film directed by William Friedkin was his highly underrated psychological horror “Bug“. That also happened to be written by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Tracy Letts and this foray into the darker recesses of the human psyche is just as impressive and unrelenting as their earlier collaboration.
Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a young Texan lowlife that has found himself in considerable debt to local nasties. To get himself out of trouble, he decides to murder his mother and collect the insurance money. He runs it by his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and they decide to hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) an amoral police detective, who also happens to be a contract killer. As they don’t have the money to pay up front, Chris offers his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer until the insurance comes through but things of this nature don’t always go to plan and Chris, Ansel and Dottie realise they’re in way over their heads.
Upon our introduction to this films characters we have a stepmother who answers the door while wearing absolutely nothing from the waist down and the father spits on his own floor after coughing up a lung. Straight away its apparent that these people are completely dysfunctional and lack any moral fibre. From there, things get progressively worse but what you wouldn’t count on, is meeting anyone else actually more disturbed than these detestable people. That is, until McConaughey’s Joe Cooper enters the fray. He is far more depraved than the degenerates and reprobates that we have been introduced to, leaving you with an all round uncomfortable feeling of dread and questioning yourself as to why you’re even spending time with such disreputable company. That’s partly the hook of the film though. It becomes a bit of a guilty pleasure watching what will happen next when there are seemingly no rules or depths that the characters won’t stoop to. Friedkin and Letts deserve the utmost credit for their uncompromising approach here and in a film with no shortage of brave and bold performances, it’s McConaughey that truly excels. He’s a dark, brooding character and a far site from his recent rom-com’s. If he really wants to change his image then this is the way to do it. This man can certainly act and after this, I’m not sure he could go back to rom-com’s even if he wanted to. This is a character that will stick in the minds of many for quite some time. Kudos to the bravery of Gina Gershon also though. She commits herself to one of the most disturbing and outrageous scenes you’re likely to see this year, or any year for that matter. I’m sure by now that many people have at least heard of the depravity of an almost surreal scene involving a (now infamous) chicken drumstick… I didn’t know whether to laugh or balk when it arrived and it left me wondering if the sales of KFC will suffer as a result of this. Poor old Colonel Sanders will be rolling in his grave as it brings a whole new meaning to their slogan “finger licking good“. This is a scene that seems to have overshadowed the word on the film itself which is not entirely unfair as the scene is most certainly shocking but there’s far more to this. Apart from the excellent performances, Friedkin’s direction is up close and personal and captures the claustrophobic nature of Letts’ writing and his blacker than black humour. It’s a lot like “Bug” whereby a lot of the drama comes from the close proximity of the characters. The tension is only heightened because of this and it challenges the viewer to even question their moral standpoint on why would you even find enjoyment in this seedy and lascivious world.
An extremely black, depraved and uncompromising piece of work but it’s also strangely captivating and possesses a humour that’s “darker’n a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night” – as a wiser feller than myself once rambled.