By Don Simpson | August 4, 2012
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracy Letts
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon
Unluckily for director William Friedkin, the violence in film debate reared its ugly head just in time for the release of Killer Joe. Earning an indisputable NC-17 rating from the MPAA, Killer Joe relishes in a cinematic world drenched in violence and full frontal [female] nudity. Considering that within minutes of the film’s opening credits our eyes are greeted by the muff of Gina Gershon’s pubic hair, Friedkin obviously never intended for this film to be seen by the puritanical mainstream audiences of “Middle America.” Friedkin’s target audience is comprised of those of us who can accept (and not attempt to recreate) non-gratuitous onscreen violence while not flinching at the sight of naked female figures.
With Killer Joe, Friedkin delivers us into the claustrophobic confines of a poor, dysfunctional and dumb as fuck (sic) Texas trailer trash family. Chris (Emile Hirsch) has gotten himself kicked out of his mother’s house and into a shit-storm of financial trouble; so Chris convinces his dimwitted drunkard of a father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), to let him crash on his sofa, much to the disdain of his slutty stepmother, Sharla (Gina Gershon). Chris then proceeds to drag Ansel into a get rich quick scheme that any sane person with an IQ of over 60 would instantly recognize as a really stupid idea.
Enter Chris’ younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), who seems to suffer from even worse mental deficiencies than the rest of the Smith clan. Next thing the sublimely innocent Dottie knows, her virginal body is traded off to Joe (Matthew McConaughey) as collateral for his murderous services. A police detective by day and killer for hire by night, the titular Joe emerges as the sole voice of intelligence within the world of Killer Joe. Taking full advantage of the fact that anyone from the Smith family would murder or auction off their own kin in order to save the skin off their own backs, Joe attempts to smooth talk his way out of the Smith family wreckage with a both his paycheck and the girl.
A perpetual loop of barking dogs, blaring televisions and lightning storms repeats like a series of process shots from classic Hollywood cinema, the effect transforms this black-as-midnight-on-a-moonless-night film noir into a feverish recurring nightmare. Killer Joe develops into an unyielding ball of tension that pummels us into submission with unhinged brutality; a tenaciously menacing air prevails as thick as coagulated blood.
Dottie is the only resemblance of goodness in this dastardly world where K-Fried-Chicken legs are sucked bone dry to orgasmic proportions. Portrayed by Temple like a naive alien who has been unwillingly dropped into this godforsaken place, even whenever Dottie is not sleepwalking she wanders around like a dazed and confused zombie. From this perspective, Killer Joe becomes Dottie’s lustfully lucid dream of a gorgeous man in black who comes to rescue her from this hellishly backwards family.
As for that gorgeous man in black — McConaughey follows closely behind his brilliantly [butt-]cheeky turn in Magic Mike, with a performance that is masterfully cool, calm and collected. Joe’s hurtful gaze and calculated speech turns everyone around him into mush, as McConaughey becomes a pulp-y blend of sex and violence incarnate. There is a killer inside him and — oh, yes — there will be blood.
(Also be sure to check out Linc Leifeste’s 8.5/10 review of Killer Joe.)