Killer Joe is the new film from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) which follows the desperate attempts of a young man, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) as he tries to alleviate his debt concerns by hiring a hitman to kill his mother so that he can collect on her life insurance. With the assistance of his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), his step mom Sharla (Gina Gershon) and his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) they hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). However things go from bad to worse for Chris once Joe becomes involved as problems with payments, criminals and misinformation strain the relationship with his family and more importantly killer Joe. Read on…
It has been many a year since William Friedkin has fascinated us with a film as strong as ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The French Connection’ with most of his latest releases mired in mediocrity. However ‘Killer Joe’ has firmly got him back on the map with a superb film that explores the fragility of the family unit and the disturbing actions and lengths people will go to for their own good. ‘Killer Joe’ will not be to every persons taste (I am sure a older lady walked out during the film) but it delivers one hell of a punch with a killer performance from McConaughey to boot.
Make no bones about it ‘Killer Joe’ is dark and disturbing but is also luridly fascinating at the same time and this down to a few notable points, acting, story and cinematography. The acting is sublime from top to bottom, Matthew McConaughey easily steals the show as Joe Cooper with a scintillating sinister performance that makes you wonder why he stars tripe like ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’. What makes his performance more impressive is that he manages to steal the show from a cast of other strong performers who also do an excellent job, Thomas Haden Church provides apt comic relief as the clueless father and Juno Temple has just broken out of her innocent youth shell.
As for the story, any film that has a son attempting to get his mother killed so that he can collect on her life insurance to pay off his debts to a criminal is going to be a dark one. However it is the relationships that the family with each other that makes this film even more darker, the father, the step mother and the daughter are all in on the act and willing to allow it to happen ,and when it comes down to it they are only looking to improve their own position not their fellow family members. It is a troubling account of a fickle family unit that comes to an extreme, frightening and almost comical conclusion when events do not pan out as planned.
However as dark as the premise is what seals the quality of the film is its incredibly dry humour that unfolds at minor points during the film which lightens the mood and shows that this film is not all about killing and death. On the directorial side of things, in assisting in punctuating the overall mood and brooding presence of the film we are given some fine cinematography through use of colours and tones for each setting. A stripper bar they visit is fully blue, intense scenes with Joe and the family occur under minimal lighting in close quarters and it all ties together to create a truly great film.
When it comes down to it ‘Killer Joe’ does little wrong as it achieves pretty much everything it intended. Its dark, wryly comical and features some amazing acting from its main cast. With that said it is not your typical hitman film and its all the better for it as it explores not just a more down to earth vision of hired murder, but what this does mean is that people looking for a heart racing action film will be sorely disappointed. Will it win any Oscars? unlikely but everybody involved needs recognition for a surprisingly brilliant film.