from a play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), William
Friedkin's Killer Joe is not for the prissy;
it's a film that is deeply offensive on some levels, which, of
course, makes it that bit more appealing. The comedy is served
as black as is able within what is, admittedly, a relatively tame
premise, the film packing a punch, simmering its violence almost
constantly beneath the surface.
Set around a dysfunctional, trailer-trash family, that premise
sets itself up very quickly, as Chris, a small-time drug dealer
with a large debt he cannot pay, crashes into his father's trailer.
He's been kicked out by his mother—for quite probably having
assaulted her—and, having heard that she holds a $50,000
life insurance policy, decides he wants to hire the services of
Killer Joe, a bent detective who moonlights as a hit man. Ansel,
his father, insists on a share, and they contact Joe, who will
only do business with payment upfront. This they do not have,
but Joe has spotted the demure, virginal Dottie, Chris' younger
sister, and is willing to have her as a retainer until the job
is done and the money has materialised. Naturally, things don't
quite go according to plan.
It's a twist that is easy to see coming, however Killer
Joe would always be a fun, quirky little number due to
a knowing, clever script. Populated by amoral characters—even
the innocent Dottie remarks that the plan to kill her mother is
"a good idea"—they quip and tease throughout,
and the timing is good enough to create an almost lighthearted
feel, despite the murderous subject matter. But the performance
from Matthew McConaughey as the titular character is what truly
elevates the film. Joe is a coiled spring to be feared and the
actor conveys this almost instantly, exuding a casual detachment
that complements a tension we are aware will explode violently.
When it does in the final act, McConaughey manages to convincingly
retain this laid-back sense, and a sexual assault that is at first
amusing gradually feels slightly disturbing as Friedkin insists
on seeing the act out. This is a wise move as it underlines that
this is normal behaviour for the character, and the viewer can
only ponder just how extreme the violence is going to get, as
McConaughey continues to almost amble his way through it. Ultimately
this violence is not extreme at all, of course, but the tension
is meted out so effectively that this really isn't a concern,
the comedy having satisfied along the way.
Really, there is little to criticise here. The tiniest of hints
at a supernatural element to Dottie's character makes for a slightly
frustrating red herring, and the climax itself is abrupt to say
the least. But these are small complaints. Killer Joe
is one of the better releases this year, even more so for knowing
just how much it has offended some viewers.
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