Film Review: Killer Joe
Four friends are unable to tear themselves from their seats as the credits roll. This does not happen a lot, these people being absolutely flabbergasted, but Killer Joe has done it. It has rendered them unable to stand, unable to leave the cinema, unable to string together sentences that make any sort of sense. Here’s, however, an attempt:
Emile Hirsch is Chris, who’s into some trouble due to his gambling and it does not help that his mother has stolen his cocaine, sold it and used the profit for her own gain. Thomas Haden Church is Ansel, Chris’s father and a dumb trailer trash hick with the good sense to accept his role as one. Gina Gershon is his oh-so-pretty-but-oh-so-skanky wife Sharla. Juno Temple is Dottie, Chris’s sister, Sharla’s stepdaughter and Ansel’s daughter – a broken minded teen, not innocent, yet wonderfully childish. Each for their own reason they decide it’s best to arrange for Chris’s good for nothing mother, Adele, to be murdered for her life-insurance money. For that they need Matthew McConaughey or Killer Joe, a slick-looking cowboy detective who takes on the role of hitman once in a while and seems to enjoy it.
The character gallery is a collection of stereotypes but playwright and screenwriter Tracy Letts has a way of making them not only human but hysterically funny, wonderfully tragic and endlessly charismatic. In fact the film is like Sam Shepard‘s Fool for Love mixed with Mark Ravenhill‘s Shopping and Fucking. An in-yer-face sort of hick-family drama. A rare breed but a somewhat brilliant one.
For those unfamiliar with the in-yer-face label it, like the 18 label plastered on Killer Joe, should be taken as fair warning of graphic violence and disturbing sexual scenes. In fact during the screening the fantastic four mentioned above attended, quite a few could not take it and chose to leave. What they expected is unknown, but it goes to show what shock-value the film has. None of the violence and sex seems forced though, this is not torture porn or mindless splatter. If it were it would be easier to ignore.
Killer Joe’s so much more than sex and violence, it is filled with brilliant dialogue, giving the characters time to shine. And man, do they! Matthew McConaughey gives such detail to his character it’s hard to imagine him topless on a beach (a trademark), instead he lures one into rooting for the son of a bitch he’s playing. Juno Temple is beautifully cast, giving Dottie an eery menace, yet maintaining her inner light. Emile Hirsch is possibly one of the most underrated young actors in Hollywood and Thomas Haden Church has you in stitches, he’s so spot on. As for Gina Gershon, well, you’ll never think of her the same way again.
Regarding being in stitches: maybe it was just a sick crowd, but one could have thought they were playing a comedy standing outside the auditorium. It is brutal and twisted and somewhat scarring for the soul, but man, is this film funny! No, it’s more, it is rapturous!
As for cinematography everything flows smoothly and the soundtrack is wonderfully sick, Tarantino would be proud.
Final Verdict: Killer Joe is not everyone’s cup of tea, obviously. But finer writing is hard to find, sicker ideas have seldom been better executed and acting does not get much better, with Matthew McConaughey commanding the screen in every scene. See it if you think you can stomach it, but go easy on the popcorn and soda.