Tuesday, September 04, 2012
This film starts off with this guy Chris, who owes a lot of money to people who will kill him if he does not pay up. He discovers that his mother, from whom he is estranged, has a life assurance policy paying out to his sister. So he puts it to his father (divorced from his mother and now remarried) that it would be a great idea if the mother were to die in a tragic accident. Rather than arranging this themselves, they engage the services of Killer Joe, a cop who has a sideline career as a hitman. But they do not have enough money to pay Killer Joe, so Chris pimps out his sister to Joe to make up the difference. So Chris has Killer Joe on the job. Nothing can go wrong.
That all sounds pretty grim and I suppose it would have to be said that there is a lot in this film that is not an easy watch. You could possibly be a bit critical of it on vague right-on lines, as the main characters are mostly trailer trash fuckwits leading seedy lives, kind of like a rich person's caricature of what the poor are like. But it is still an enjoyable film, with an undercurrent of dark comedy that masks the nastiness of the basic setup.
The performances are very strong in this and play a large part in making the film work. Matthew McConaughey's Killer Joe is sinister and threatening, yet also oddly urbane and charming. Emile Hirsch plays Chris as a fuckwit loser who has got himself in a hole and is digging himself deeper, while Thomas Haden Church is impressive as his father, a man not over-burdened in the smarts department but who seems almost to have reached some kind of accommodation with his unsuccessful state in life, until the prospect of all that life assurance money is dangled in front of him.
The female characters are also well drawn, with Gina Gershon as Chris's stepmother being almost sympathetic for all her manipulation and false self-image as someone a bit cleverer than the idiots she is surrounded by. Juno Temple as Dottie, Chris' sister, conveys a strange and disturbing sense of simple-mindedness and murderous intent - for all her child-woman idiot-savant demeanour, she is the one of the family who is most into the killing of her mother as an end in itself rather than a route to money, largely because of an early memory of being strangled by her mother.
It strikes me that for all its trailer park redneck setting, there is an air of Southern Gothic to this film, with its dysfunctional family dynamics and creepy subtext to the relationship between Chris and Dottie. Looked at like that, Killer Joe seems almost like a supernatural agent of destruction, earned or unearned. The family members do seem to pay terrible prices for their moral failings, though I suppose it is largely accidental that this amoral killer is the agent of their doom.
The film is directed by William Friedkin, from a script by Tracy Letts (who wrote the original Killer Joe play back in 1991). Friedkin is famous as the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection but also has a reputation for a somewhat extreme approach to his actors. Some might say that the film does treat Juno Temple in a rather voyeuristic manner, for all that it gives her a character with considerable depth to play.
Anyway, I liked this film, though I appreciate that it is not for everyone and that some may find some of the scenes in it a bit on the intense side.
An inuit panda production
image source and Daily Telegraph review.