Based on a stage play of the same name, Killer Joe is an odd beast of a film, and one that is almost impossible to pigeon-hole into a particular genre. Part thriller, part drama, and even part dark comedy – this film about a Texan family who hire killer to take out someone so that they claim the life insurance, is marked by excellent performances and a chilling ending which had me covering my eyes.. Check out my review of the William Friedkin-directed Killer Joe after the jump.
Chris (Emile Hirsch) is in considerable debt to a rather ruthless drug dealer who is set to kill him if he doesn’t pay what he owes straight away. Being the redneck idiot that he is, Chris decides that the best way to get the money is to hire a hitman to kill his mother (who he doesn’t particularly like), as she has a fifty thousand dollar life insurance policy that his extremely naïve and mentally immature sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the beneficiary of. Enter Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) – a killer for hire that demands utter secrecy and a twenty-five thousand dollar upfront payment.
Chris, his father (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmother (Gina Gershon) want to go ahead with the scheme despite not having Joe’s upfront payment. These people aren’t exactly the smartest bunch, and that sum of money is enough to change (and in Chris’s case save) their lives – they can’t see past the dollar signs. Joe proposes that he takes Dottie as a retainer, and the family agrees. Joe is to live with them and have Dottie for himself until the payment comes through from the insurance. No payment and Dottie is his for keeps. With a bunch of greedy no-hopers like this, it was obvious things would never go to plan. What plays out is sadistic, chilling, and simply wrong.
What makes Killer Joe worth watching are the performances from Matthew McConaughey and Thomas Haden Church. McConaughey has been on form this year (see Magic Mike and Bernie), but it is this performance as the cold, calculating, and sinister killer which is his most accomplished yet. Dottie comments in the film that Joe’s eyes are “cold”, and I certainly felt that was true. McConaughey was every inch the killer, and I was truly anxious when his rage kicked in. It’s hard to think that he was as a resident “romcom” dweller only a few years ago. Thomas Haden Church was fantastic as the droll, rather unintelligent head of the family. His reactions to what plays out is hilarious – never has their been a less energetic or caring response to murder.
The social commentary in this film was interesting – this family had so little that they were willing to potentially sacrifice their innocent daughter for some money and for Chris’s life. You hear about people being killed for pitiful amounts of money, but this takes that to a new level. What sort of person thinks this is acceptable? The only person I felt anything for in this film was Dottie. When she was threatened, I felt quite worried and I was fully invested in her safety. As for the others, I couldn’t have cared less what happened to them. They were all such awful selfish people, willing to do the unthinkable. This is one of the reasons that I wasn’t completely engaged in the film – I would have been quite happy if someone took them all out in the first act.
Another reason I found the film a unengaging and uneven in parts was because it felt extremely talky. It’s easy to see that this was based on a play – there were many scenes in which characters just talked and not a lot happened. The lack of development made the film lag quite badly through the middle – it certainly felt longer than its 102 minute length. There were also large chunks of the film when characters disappeared – it was almost as if the protagonist swapped in each act. While this may have worked in the play, I found that this made the film feel disjointed.
Overall this film is one that’s hard to pin down. While I found the performances to be superb, I was never really that engaged in the film. Sure there are some very violent and shocking scenes, but there is also a whole lot of nothing in between. A mixed bag, but one worth giving a look for McConaughey alone.
Director: William Friedkin
Writer(s): Tracy Letts
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church
Runtime: 102 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: September 6 2012; New Zealand: no date set