Killer Joe – Matthew McConaughey is one scary fella

William Friedkin, the director of film gems such as The Exorcist and The French Connection, has finally returned to the screen with Killer Joe, an adaptation of a Tracy Letts play (Friedkin’s disturbing yet superb last film, Bug, was also an adaptation of another Letts play).

Chris (Emile Hirsch) is down on his luck when he runs to his Dad, Ansel, (Thomas Haden Church) for help. He owes some bad people a lot of money, but he’s had a radical idea about how to get it. He knows of a guy called Joe (Matthew McConaughey) who will professionally ‘remove’ someone if the price is right. His Mum, Ansel’s ex-wife, is a waster anyway, so why not kill her? Her insurance policy is worth a lot and that would solve Chris’s debt problem and see the rest of the family right for a long time. But ‘Killer Joe’, as he’s known, turns out to be more than they bargained for when he asks for a down payment that they don’t have. He’s got his eyes on Chris’s little sister though…

Matthew McConaughey has never been one of my favourite actors. In fact I haven’t seen him in anything before other than crappy rom-coms in which he plays yet another boring down-to-earth dreamboat guy (the one exception I can think of is Tropic Thunder where he’s mildly funny). But after seeing Killer Joe, I’ve realised how amazing (and occasionally creepy) he really is. His powerhouse performance as Joe; charming, suave, and sometimes very scary, is truly incredible. His Joe is menacing and carries a sinister unknowable element throughout the whole film as we, and the family, are wondering what he’ll do next.

Although it really is mostly about McConaughey giving it all in a role that’s going to cement him as a truly serious actor, the other actors also successfully vie for the attention onscreen in a lot of well-rounded performances as the trashy family from hell. Emile Hirsch is great as Chris the desperate son (but seriously when is he not amazing?), Thomas Haden Church lends the intense film a much-needed comic element as the deadbeat, lethargic, hillbilly Dad, and Gina Gershon is also brilliant (and incredibly brave – I can’t say why but you’ll understand after you see the film) as Ansel’s trashy girlfriend. Another star of the film is the cute as a button Juno Temple as Dottie, the innocent, ethereal girl trapped in a trailer and dreaming of better things. She tackles the role and difficult scenes fearlessly and with maturity, while always keeping that childlike air about her. Trust me – she is amazing and about to be everywhere (not least in a little film called The Dark Knight Rises).

Killer Joe is sometimes a hard film to watch. It is often violent and when the violence does happen it is abrupt and very brutal. There is also a controversial end scene that I won’t discuss in detail or it will give it away (and I also don’t really know how the hell to describe it delicately anyway). But let’s say it’s one of many dark moments in this film when you’re not sure whether to laugh, or be truly horrified. And certain sex scenes are difficult to watch given the context they’re in. If all these things sound terrifying to you, then Killer Joe is probably not going to be your cup of tea.

Despite all this though, Killer Joe is a compelling film, not least because of the excellent performances, but also because of the funny, snappy dialogue and intense scenes throughout. It is a look at a family who are all just as messed up as each other and who are consumed by desperation and greed, as well as a dangerous man who manipulates others. Some people may find parts too slow and with too much dialogue (it is adapted from a play after all so what do you expect?) but that’s the beauty of it – it’s all about the relationships between these strange characters who all want different things but who will stop at nothing to get what they want. A disturbing watch but a fascinating one at that, not least because of Matthew McConaughey in a groundbreaking role that proves what he can really do.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on July 24, 2012.

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