By the end of 2012 I do not doubt that Killer Joe will be in my Top 5, I loved this film and since my screening I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I actually knew nothing about the film aside from a few of the actors and that William Friedkin was the director. My friend Sam recommended I check this out at the Melbourne International Film Festival and that was good enough for me. I didn’t read a single synopsis or see a trailer, I went into this completely dark and it worked like a charm! I can’t recall having this great of an experience with a film and audience recently, I would compare it to what I experienced with The Loved Ones almost two years ago. Killer Joe was a film that had the entire audience engrossed, and all of our reactions were just so entertaining that it just made for such an unforgettable experience.
I really do not want to give much away so this synopsis will be as simple as I can make it. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a local drug dealer, who can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. He finds himself in debt to some local crime guys, and he needs money fast. He turns to his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), who doesn’t appear to even have $10 to his name. Chris suggests that they hire a local detective Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who for a fee will kill someone. The plan is to do away with his mother and collect the insurance policy (of only $50,000 with Joe’s fee being half of that). The only problem is that the beneficiary is Chris’s younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) and Killer Joe wants his fee up front. Sounds like a bad idea, and what happens to bad ideas? They only get worse ….
Killer Joe is based upon the play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the film script. For me it actually didn’t feel like it was a play and I think the adaptation was done well for the screen. This is about it’s characters and the situation, which I think was delivered wonderfully with some fantastic dialogue to boot. This is an extremely dark comedy, with some very intense scenes and moments you just have to see to be believed. I can’t really think of a comparison, perhaps Blue Velvet only more on the dark comedy side. This is just as messed up as that and Killer Joe is as outrageous as Blue Velvet’s antagonist Frank Booth. This is a film that certainly deals with the small town mentality, and the lengths people will go to for something that hardly seems worth it. These characters are odd, like David Lynch small town odd, and perhaps only one is truly likeable but they are all incredibly entertaining.
The performances here are just fantastic, I mean everyone delivers the goods and then some. Matthew McConaughey delivers something we haven’t seen from him before, gone is the nice sweet guy of the rom-com. Nope we get one crazy character, the last time he played something like this was probably in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and I am sure that is a film he’d like to forget. From the moment he steps into the picture we know we are in for something special, he’s charming yet creepy and it all some how works. I loved this performance and character and I really hope McConaughey gets recognised come awards time, this is easily one of his best roles. Emile Hirsch who always seems to do a great job with the material he’s given was awesome as the dumbass Chris. He is a character we just should not like, yet I was drawn to him through this performance. I wanted to slap him upside the head for being so stupid with his decisions, but he just doesn’t know better and Hirsch made sure to express this.
Thomas Haden Church delivered as usual, he was rather funny, but in such an odd way. The father/son chemistry was spot on for this family dynamic, he knows he sucks as a father but refuses to take responsibility for it. I think he is going to become the unsung hero of this film. Juno Temple was adorable, and this girl is certainly going to go places. She shows what she is made of here, and didn’t shy away from anything, this was a raw performance and extremely innocent. Dottie is perhaps the only character that is likeable, and it’s still hard to explain why, it may be her complete innocence and the fact she seems to be the sane one in the family. Gina Gershon absolutely shined as Sharla, wife to Ansel and step-mother to Chris and Dottie. Gershon had to do a lot of very brave things in this film and she handled it well, and she sold it just right! If you have ever doubted there was a great actress in her, this should prove to you there is. You may also never look at a chicken drumstick the same way again.
I think I can safely say that William Friedkin is back with a bang, he’s given us his best film in years and this will be right up there as one of his best. His direction was nothing short of fantastic, the performances he got from his actors worked for this messed up and dark tale. He handled the material like a champion and he knew exactly how to execute it. The script is superb, and dare I say these two men should work together again on something in this vein? I highly recommend Killer Joe, it is insane but it is such a great ride. As soon as the film finished I wanted to watch it again, and I really can’t wait until I can experience it again. My advice see it on the big screen with an audience, it’ll be a screening you wont soon forget.