William Friedkin’s directing career is most probably defined by films such as The French Connection and The Exorcist, the former being about an amoral police officer and the latter about a child possessed by demonic sprits. Both of which, characters in Friedkin’s uneasy thriller Killer Joe, possess elements off.
This brutal redneck nightmare, adapted by Tracy Letts from his own play, opens on a rain-drenched trailer park in the heart of Texas. A young Chris is frantically pounding on the door of a caravan in the hope he can find shelter after being ejected from his own home. Upon gaining entry from Chris’s semi-naked stepmother Sharla, we meet Chris’s father, Ansel and after a short trip to a local strip club we learn the basic premise of the film.
Chris’s degenerate ways have landed him in debt to a local crime-boss. He has discovered that his mothers life insurance comes a to a sum of 50,000 dollars and in his desperation intends to hire rogue Dallas Detective and contract killer, Joe Cooper to become his mothers maker.
Ordinarily our hitman is payed in advance for his services, but as neither Chris nor Ansel have the money, they intend to broker a deal with Joe on the condition that he will get a share of the insurance money after he carries out the hit. But Cooper is not a buy now, pay later sort of guy. The heartless rogue agrees to go through with the killing on one condition, that he can have his way with Chris’s slightly deranged virginal teen sister Dottie, as a mutually agreed retainer.
The Lincoln Lawyer star Matthew McConaughey, provides a solid performance as the sinister cop, Joe Cooper. Playing this role with the right amount of cruelty, his performance seems to out shine the rest. Other cast include Sideways star Thomas Haden Church, playing the mildly convincing idiotic father Ansel, Emile Hirsch as the frantic son Chris, Juno Temple as the dizzy sister Dottie, and Bound star Gina Gershon as the conniving step-mother Sharla.
For what Killer Joe has in narrative, is lost in directional mistakes, the positioning of the camera in certain shots for instance when Chris is receiving a beating by two biker thugs, means you could see that the blows were not hitting their mark. Somewhat of a schoolboy error that is unforgivable due to the fact that those errors could have been addressed on set or later in post-production.
That aside, Friedkin orchestrates some truly grotesque and unsettling scenes, one of which involving a blood soaked Sharla and a piece of fried chicken sits prominently in my mind. A play on cinematic clichés of American “trailer-trash”, Killer Joe is an ultraviolent thriller, which holds little regard for women but is highly recommended if you look for more in a film than just the spectacle of special effects.
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church
Runtime: 102 mins