Killer Joe

5 Nov

 

Director: William Friedkin

Writers: Tracy Letts (screenplay), Tracy Letts (play)

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple

Motion Picture Rating: 18

Runtime: 102 minutes

 

 

It’s clear very quickly in this film that we are in the good old American south and on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s raining hard, chained up dogs are barking fiercely and the camera pans a dirty trailer park. Killer Joe is mostly a piece of ‘southern noir’ with some very black humour thrown in for good measure. The setting, just outside of Dallas, is bleak and the characters are dark.

Killer Joe is a detective who moonlights as a contract killer. He is hired by a scruffy and dim-witted father and son combo in Ansel and Chris Smith (Thomas Haden Church and Emile Hirsch). They agree to pay Joe from the insurance policy that they expect to redeem after Joe has killed Ansel’s ex-wife and Chris’ estranged mother. That $50k policy actually names Chris’s younger sister Dottie as the beneficiary and she is the real catalyst for the drama that ensues. Although a rather odd and shy creature, young Dottie catches Joe’s eye and soon enough Ansel and Chris are presenting her to the killer as a form of down-payment on the contract.

As written by Tracy Letts and directed by William (The Exorcist) Friedkin, Killer Joe is a morally dubious tale. At its heart are a dark exploration of the disintegration of the American family – the trailer bound, fried chicken eating and drug-taking Smiths – and a very non-pc courtship between a veteran killer and a naive teenage girl. Killer Joe moves into the Smith trailer, whilst planning to kill the absent matriarch, and as such takes young Dottie to bed and lays down some new laws for petty criminals Ansel and Chris.

This is a violent and warped film. It is outrageous in parts and hard to defend in others. It is, however, exciting, intense, comic and very well acted. Matthew McConaughey as Killer Joe is slick and scary in equal measure. He starts off channelling Jack Palance and ends with Dennis Hopper (specifically as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet). It is a fine performance and Juno Temple shows up almost as well as Dottie. They are this year’s, and possibly any years, oddest celluloid couple bar none. It is definitely not politically correct, but it’s exhilarating.

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