“Killer Joe” is an unpleasant crime movie about unpleasant people, but you may admire its no-hold-barred approach to its twisted story. I must warn you that watching it is not a pleasant experience, but it is not a dreadful experience at all. As an intense film filled with vicious dark humor, it goes all the way for shocking and jolting us, and it works as it intended, so it may earn your admiration even when you cringe at what you see on the screen.
Its story begins with a desperate situation of one young local drug dealer in some town in Texas. Chris Smith(Emile Hirsch) urgently needs $6,000 to pay his debt to a local crime organization, but none of the people around him has that much money. Their town is a typical white trash neighbourhood where the people struggle through their daily lives with little income they can earn, and that tedious feeling of hopelessness is always hovering around them even in broad daylight.
Out of desperation, Chris concocts a coarse scheme for getting the money he needs. He heard that his mother Adele has $50,000 in life insurance and its sole beneficiary is his sister Dottie(Juno Temple), so he thinks all he has to do is hiring a killer and then paying $20,000 when the money from the insurance company comes. Although Adele is his mother, Chris does not like her much(and she is responsible for his current problem), and neither does his dim father Ansel(Thomas Haden Church), who divorced from Adele and is currently living with his second wife Sharla(Gina Gershon). When he hears about Chris’ crazy plan, Ansel shows little hesitation at first, but he quickly joins with his son on the condition that Sharla will also get an equal share as his wife. In case of Dottie, this odd, innocent, and unstable teenager girl, has no problem with this immoral plan: “I heard y’all talking about killing mama. I think it’s a good idea. ”
Chris heard that there is a cop whose part time job is a contract killer, so that is how Joe Copper(Matthew McConaughey) comes into the picture. McConaughey, who impressed us with his stellar performances in “Bernie”(2011) and “Magic Mike”(2012) in last year, is also very good here as a ruthless man full of slick charm and snaky menace. Right from his first appearance, you can instantly sense that this is a dangerous guy you should deal with caution, but Chris and Ansel have not even thought of paying Joe in advance while they meet him for the first time.
Because they do not have money for advance payment, Joe demands them a security for their deal, so, as a part of the deal, they allow Joe to have a ‘dinner date’ with Dottie at their trailer home. While it looks like a dinner between a helpless little lamb and a charming big bad wolf, the dinner scene between Dottie and Joe also has a little sense of morbid fun, and McConaughey and Temple balance themselves well at the appropriate point between humor and tension.
And the unpleasant things keep happening. Not so surprisingly, the things do not go well for everyone involved in the scheme, and the circumstance becomes more violent and intense for them. Some of them get beaten up or shot, but we do not feel much pity for Chris and his family because, well, they had it coming and dearly pay for their stupidity.
But the movie keeps pulling us to its ugly sights because of the talents supporting it. The movie is based on the play written by the screenplay writer Tracy Letts, and he previously collaborated with the director William Friedkin in “Bug”(2006). That movie was an uncomfortable story about a mentally disturbed couple hurling themselves into the bottom of insanity, and Friedkin handled their story with no compromise while pushing his two talented actors(Ashely Judd and Michael Shannon) to the extreme.
While establishing the vivid atmosphere for the story and the characters, Friedkin sticks to an uncompromising mode with his cast, and they willingly put themselves into many difficult scenes. It may look pretty hard for the actors in the film, but you will get the feeling that they are enjoying their roles as exciting challenges. They know exactly what they are dealing with, and they deliver exactly what the director and writer want, so we come to accept the movie as an absurd black comedy covered with blood and bruises.
While the other actors give good performances, it goes without saying that Matthew McConaughey has the most fun in the movie. There is a very twisted moment when Joe forces Sharla to do something unspeakable with a drumstick in front of her husband, and McConaughey is darkly electrifying in the most sadistic moment in his career. Friedkin and the cinematographer Caleb Deschanel thankfully distances us from this nasty moment through emphasizing the theatrical mood surrounding the performers and the set, but it remains still eerie enough to be remembered thanks to McConaughey and Gershon, and I believe the movie will always be remembered with this strikingly nasty scene.
“Killer Joe” richly deserves its NC-17 rating in US considering its uncomfortable presentation of nudity and violence. I cannot say I ‘enjoyed’ the movie, but I found it compelling even when I thought the characters were pretty pathetic, and I appreciate the skills and the performances behind this cinematic junk food. The movie is indeed quite a shock, but it goes with good twisted laughs.