Film Review: Killer Joe (2011)

on Thursday, July 26, 2012
'Killer Joe' (UK Release: 29 June '12) // Words: Saam Das

Forty years on from his success in the early 70s with the likes of 'The Exorcist' and 'The French Connection', director William Friedkin has lent his accomplished hand to violent Southern drama, 'Killer Joe'. Considering its relatively mainstream profile, this is a film that is about as raw and uncomfortable as contemporary audiences can get.

As with his previous feature outing, 2006's 'Bug', Friedkin teamed up with playwright-turned-screenwriter Tracy Letts. Together they portray a dark world of the American South in 'Killer Joe'. Chris (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in life-threatening debt, leading him to consult with his father (Thomas Haden Church) as to whether they should kill his estranged mother to collect her considerable life insurance pay-out.

Enter Joe Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey), a police officer who moonlights as a hitman. His typical cash advance fee for the job isn't available but he takes a shine to Chris' wistful sister Dottie (Juno Temple), opting to take her into his very personal care in return until his services are completed and the money is forthcoming.

Expectedly, things aren't quite as simple as Chris had hoped for leading to a pulp fiction voyage for the family that ends in a brutal fashion, with McConnaughey flexing his acting chops rather than his six pack, for once. Indeed, there has even been awards talk for McConnaughey's performance, although his sociopathic Joe isn't always as disconcerting as intended.

Instead, it's the family that prove most fascinating. The curious relationship between Chris and Dottie, fostered impeccably by Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple. Thomas Haden Church acts deliberately within himself to add to the dysfunction against his more extroverted partner Gina Gershon.

As it transpires, none of the characters are redeemable, making the viewer's investment in the film feel somewhat futile - exacerbated by the bloody finale. 'Killer Joe' is as much an exercise in depravity as it is in filmmaking, an oddly commendable if ultimately unfulfilling move from Friedkin and Letts.


'Killer Joe' is out in UK cinemas now, through Entertainment One.

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