Poster quotes have a way of being deceiving about what exactly you're in for when watching the film named on the poster. Few are quite as telling as the line on KILLER JOE's poster describing it as a “Totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story.” I wouldn't dare anyone to come up with anything more on the nose than that without just describing the final scene in the film. Beyond the truth about how twisted this film is, it is also tense and fascinating due in large part to Matthew McConaughey's phenomenal performance.
Emile Hirsch stars as a gambling druggie, Chris, that owes money to some shady characters and to solve his money issues approaches his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) about hiring a hitman named Killer Joe (McConaughey) to kill Ansel's ex-wife, Chris' mother in order to collect the $50,000 life insurance policy. When the duo cannot fulfill the advance that Joe requires to pull off the job he counters their offer by offering to do the job as long as he can do whatever he pleases with Ansel's daughter, Chris' sister until the deed is done. From there things really start to get weird and it culminates with one of the most awkward and brutal dinner scenes in recent memory.
KILLER JOE is William Friedkin's most recent foray into bringing one of Tracy Letts' plays to the cinematic stage and for my money; this is the more successful of them. BUG was a pretty strange experience in and of itself, but compared to this it wasn't near as engrossing although both were performed spectacularly. The sets here are claustrophobic enough that it's not hard to picture as a play minus one or two scenes that take place over a series locations. It is because of the claustrophobic aspects of both BUG and KILLER JOE that they work so well for me as tense and straining film experiences, although I found KILLER JOE to be the less tedious effort.
The majority, hell, the entirety of this film relies on the performances of everyone involved, but none more so than that of McConaughey. Even if anyone else had dropped the ball, McConaughey knocks it out of the park with a character many would have never guessed he could pull off. Anyone looking to get their beefcake fix coming off MAGIC MIKE might find that rather than fulfilling their sexual fantasies, McConaughey will instead incite even more bizarre fantasies or visceral nightmares. He has a hint of charming likability which lures you in, before he just punches you in the face with this intense and psychotic persona that is spellbinding to see on screen.
While McConaughey steals the show, the rest of the cast cannot be overlooked as they all put in great performances. Gina Gershon has some pretty weighty moments and I got a kick out of Thomas Haden Church even though his involvement in the proceedings is mostly subdued and passive. The entire cast pulls off the insanely dark humor to perfection, which only serves to make the final scene that much more twisted than it would be in a straightforward thriller.
At times KILLER JOE can seem like a one trick pony with McConaughey brooding around on screen making people nervous, but it's a trick that works and carries the film with spectacular ease. I could have watched this cast bicker back and forth for much longer than the film ends up being. However, once the film does arrive at the final scene and pushes things into full on twisted while still trying to be darkly comedic I couldn’t help but feel like in that moment it became a film I couldn't see myself watching over and over and over. As it is, KILLER JOE is an extremely twisted bit of fun that eventually hits that moment where it tries to go too far. Essentially it's a film that's dark and dirty and no matter how dirty it gets it's nothing a good shower can't wash away before you'll eventually want to go back and experience again.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)