Review: KILLER JOE

By Aaron Delgado

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In Killer Joe, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a small town, drug-selling kid with just the right amount of ambition and street smarts to eventually get him in trouble.  After ending up on the bad side of a local drug king, he asks his unlikely hero of a dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) for some money to pay back his debt.   Shut down by his dad, he comes up with a “simple” plan: Hire a hit man to kill his mom, Ansel’s ex-wife, and collect the $50,000 life insurance policy, who has as beneficiary, eccentric younger sister Dottie Smith (Juno Temple).  The rest of this estranged family is completed by Sharla Smith (Gina Gerson), Ansel’s new wife, who also jumps at the opportunity to make a quick buck to get ahead.  Chris turns to Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) a detective by day, hit man by night to do the dirty work but when things don’t go as planned, his creepy fascination for Dottie, Chris’s life is turned upside down as he now has to pay more than he originally intended to.

 

William Friedkin, Oscar-winner director (The Exorcist, The French Connection, The Hunted) delivers in Killer Joe a magnificent darkly humorous movie unlike any of his previous efforts.  Killer Joe’s perfectly characterized setting in a trashy Texas town, plays an important part of the story.  It’s claustrophobic yet scary atmosphere sets the mood for this disturbing story that at times crosses the line of perversion, brutality and unprecedented family values.

The movie, based on a stage play by Tracy Letts (also the screen writer), has the flow of a theatrical play.  His long narrative scenes are funny, sometimes hilarious actually and they make this an enjoyable movie.  That is until it starts to turn little by little into a time bomb of crazy scenes and sick dialogue, then, it is where Friedkin turns on the volume.  He guides us in a roller coaster of emotion, even leaving the audience thinking of how wrong it is to be laughing at something so serious or sacred.  This is where the movie succeeds, separating emotions and let us enjoy the rawness of its story and scenes, yet somehow leaving us to feel we are wrong for laughing.  Laughter is unavoidable. Thomas Haden Church delivers a great performance playing Ansel, the deadbeat dad, yet, deep inside his feelings seem honest and his lack of character makes him the most opportunist character in the movie.  He undoubtedly delivers the funniest lines of the movie.

The movie becomes a visceral ride of brutality and sexuality, which honors its NC-17 rating to the bone.  Friedkin’s uncomfortably cramped vision is spacious enough to let its characters develop well enough carry the movie without boring the audience.  Matthew McConaughey whose character Killer Joe makes the film and gives probably, to date, the best performance of his life, and this time doing it with out having to take off his shirt.  At moments he reminded me of, (and do not kill me for this, there is no real comparison, but he sometimes reminded) of Frank Booth, Blue Velvet’s demented character played by Dennis Hopper.  McCounaughey is, with out a doubt, the driver in this high-speed train of voyeurism, which has the ability to turn the most normal moments to the most excruciating and twisted experiences audiences will have in theaters in a long time.  Of note, Juno Temple also manages to pull a great performance in Dottie, the innocent soul that is inevitably corrupted by its surroundings.  Undoubtedly having some of the most challenging scenes in the movie, she came across as a very mature actress even for her young age.

Inside this incredible chaos, Friedkin manages to throw a jab here and there of social commentary regarding Americana culture such as family values, religion, the cowboy, television and fried chicken, that’s right fried chicken. Good luck eating Kentucky Fried Chicken for a while after this movie.  Killer Joe will have people walking out of theaters in disbelief, shock, excitement and feeling wholly disturbed, after laughing at its disconcerting, perverted and disgusting scenarios.  But that’s ok; it will stick in the head for a long time and will be held as the strangest yet, quite fun experience of the summer.

 

 

 

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