Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Tracy Letts
“Killer Joe” is a dark and twisted Texas hillbilly noir, set in a Dallas trailer park that has seen better days. The film, directed by Academy Award winner William Friedkin (The French Connection and The Exorcist) combines elements of degrading horror with the slow burn of a classic, dark film noir. It focuses on a family that is out of touch with any form decency and humanity, and will do anything, and I mean anything, to out do the others. The film is not for the faint of heart, or stomach for that matter, with grotesque scenes of violence and inconsideration for human life. It doesn’t deliver on every level, although some scenes will be hard to erase from the viewers mind, but is a must see for the brilliant cast and gorgeous cinematography by Caleb Deschanel.
The story revolves around the Smith clan, initiated by Chris, played with unsettled enthusiasm and ignorance by Emile Hirsch, and after his mother steals his drugs leaves him in debt to his drug dealers. Chris devises a plan to murder his mother and claim a $50,000 life insurance policy, and hears of Killer Joe Cooper, the wonderful and devilish Matthew McConaughey, a police detective who murders for hire on the side. Chris convinces his dim-witted, beer-drinking father Ansel, played by the wonderful Thomas Haden Church to assist him in this plan. These reckless men do not have the cash up front to pay Joe and Joe wants a retainer until they have the money, that retainer being Chris’ sister Dottie. Played by Juno Temple in a haunting and unsettling role of a naïve, young girl who is in for more then what she knows and is being a useful pawn in this ill advised plan. And not to forget Sharla, a toned down, make-up smeared Gina Gershon who has many fingers in the scheme as well. These events sets in motion a series of violent and comical scenarios that lead to this disgusting thriller that has no end of goodness in sight.
The film is filled with nudity, sex and hardcore violence that delve the viewer into a chaotic world. The movie presents a deplorable world, not of just poverty and total disregard for human emotion and life, but the limits, and lack of, that people are willing to go to save their own ass from their own ignorance. Friedkin sets the mood with barking dogs, old vehicles, and thunderstorms that relentlessly present a set piece for the catastrophe the viewer is about to be spun into. The trailer park presents a downtrodden, economically depraved part of Dallas that gives a sense of neglect for one’s self and an elimination of progress in this part of town. The film doesn’t work on the fact that the characters are so deplorable and are sunk into their own misguided views on civility for their own family members. The constant dark humor that flows from this sickening group of townies, especially in the scene between Ansel and Chris where Chris describes what the retainer is to his father, is a great respite from the pure evilness of the characters and adds to the feeling of gory, unconditional horror in the film.
Throughout the whole film the star, and rightfully so, is McConaughey. He brings an eerie calmness and an unnerving coldness in his eyes to the main character that is so unsettling that I could never forget. His malevolent actions exemplify the ways you do not upset the man you have hired to perform his duty. Killer Joe will get paid no matter what he has to do, especially when he succeeds in his hired task. Killer Joe lives by a set of rules, a disciplined and necessary approach to keep his side business of killer clean and profitable. If these rules are broken you will not live to see the day past your stupidity and reluctance to abide by these rules will not go without violent punishment. McConaughey has delivered his best performance and has proven he can use his machismo and suave to more effective use, with a maniacal mentality that show his great range and growth as an actor.
Friedkin’s film, based off the play and written for the screen by Tracy Letts, the two collaborated on another of Letts’ plays “Bug,” has no problem in earning its NC-17 rating. The violence, and the uncomfortable use of a chicken leg will stay in my mind as long as I think of violent, horror films, but the performances in the end outweigh the actual film itself. This gothic, Texas thriller is beautifully composed, acted and directed but in the end, the incomprehensible depravity for human life and the disregard for your own family members leaves its mark with a disgusting after taste. The film is minor in Friedkin’s work with the exception of the fine performances, grotesque violence and that damn chicken leg. The film is minor in Friedkin’s work, but show that he has not lost his taste for the macabre and grotesque, and that damn chicken leg.