Killer Joe (2012)

Killer Joe is one of those Marmite movies that will split audiences in two. You’ll either loathe it or enjoy it (to varying degrees). I doubt anyone will think “well, that was kind of okay”. Killer Joe is dark, twisted, encapsulating, bizarre and superbly crafted.

Adapted from a play by Tracy Letts (who also writes the screenplay) Killer Joe does retain that claustrophobic atmosphere his play must’ve encapsulated, with few settings and fewer characters, it creates a tight, closed world full of oppression, immorality and reams of darkness.

But what the hell is it about?!

Trailer-trash teen Chris (Emile Hirsch) has just found out his shitty, absent mother has got a $50,000 life insurance policy and Chris’s strange sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the sole beneficiary. After a fantastically brief discussion with his dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) Chris decides to hire ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to murder his mother discretely and pocket the insurance money. Lovely, huh?

Despite being a detective, Joe Cooper is also a hired assassin and will happily do the ‘job’ for $25,000. Unfortunately Joe requires the money up front or the deal’s off… so Chris decides to give Joe a ‘retainer’ in lieu of the insurance money. What retainer? His sister Dottie…

This leads everyone down a dark, sinister and seriously twisted path which shocks, disturbs and occasionally makes you feel a little bit sickened. Containing nudity, sex, violence, death and takeaway fellatio, Killer Joe never holds back.

Although being a billion miles away from The Exorcist this is perhaps William Friedkin’s best work since the 1973 classic. Killer Joe is a very mature, controversial and essentially modern piece of work. Some may complain that the moments of nudity are needless and – essentially – very creepily done, but this is not exploitation for exploitation’s sake and (somewhat ironically) the exploitation on display is deliberate and genuinely disturbing. This film will make you feel dirty inside, and not in a good way.

This is Friedkin’s second outing with writer Tracy Letts, who also penned Bug (which was another adaptation from one of his plays).  Based on the controversial nature and undeniable quality of both films I hope to see more work from this duo in the future. Friedkin’s next piece is I Am Wrath featuring Nicholas Cage. Fingers crossed for Bad Lieutenant Cage and not Bangkok Dangerous Cage…

Some people have described Killer Joe as “darkly comic” and – although there are some moments of humour – I found the entire film to be laced with a reality that was seriously horrible. Some dialogue may amuse but the entire situation is darkly nihilistic and excellent because of this. This is a pitch black comedy.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in Killer Joe is Matthew McConaughey. Known mostly for twee Rom-Com flicks like Magic Mike, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Failure to Launch, his role in Killer Joe is the antithesis of his surfer-hunk lovely-dude character. Violent, intimidating, sharp, brutal, perverted and more than a little mental, this is one of McConaughey’s best performances. I hope we see more like it. He’s bloody brilliant in Killer Joe.

Alongside McConaughey, Emile Hirsch leads the film as the trailer trash douchebag Chris Smith. Hirsch is one of those actors that is brilliantly talented but criminally underused and underrated. I can drop him into the same category as Nick Stahl, another potential-star who’s been let down by having a Hollywood Blockbuster box-office stinker drown his career. Hirsch’s starring turn in the super-awful Speed Racer tanked his potential as an A-list Hollywood star but hopefully Killer Joe will garner him some more meaty, dark ‘n’ deep roles.

For quality Hirsch performances, check out Into the Wild and Milk, as he is superb in both. You can also add Killer Joe to this resume of awesome, and he’s amongst some serious quality.

Everyone in Killer Joe excels and plays their part to perfection, from Thomas Haden Church (another victim of blockbuster career killer – he played Sandman in Spiderman 3) to Gina Gershon, each character jumps off the screen as deeply believable and deeply flawed. Great performances throughout.

Ignoring McConaughey’s stellar performance, the true star of Killer Joe is England’s very own Juno Temple (playing Dottie Smith), who gives a disturbingly real depiction of a victim of her circumstances. It’s a bold, brave and bonkers performance. It is clear her talent has been recognised as she will be appearing in at least seven films in 2013. Juno Temple is certainly one to watch in the future.

Killer Joe is dark and disturbing and blackly comic. It will be HATED by some audiences and loved by others, but I personally found it encapsulating, sickening, taut and brilliantly made. Eons away from The Exorcist, this is William Friedkin’s best work for decades. Watch it.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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