KILLER JOE is a dark, vicious little character piece marking a return of sorts for William Friedkin. Sure, the director of EXORCIST and FRENCH CONNECTION made a couple decent films in the last four decades, but he’s hardly been able to make a real splash since.
Essentially the film revolved around five players. First there’s the mixed up, trailer trash family. Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon serve as the parents, with Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple as the siblings. The plot revolves around one of those insurance scams that tend to drive the desperate and stupid, resulting in Hirsch’s character hiring a man named Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to help with a murder for hire. As retainer, Killer Joe chooses the sister as collateral, and when things go awry, well, they go downhill in a heartbeat.
It’s not so hard to dismiss the film as vulgar and superficially misogynistic, but underneath the acts of depravity that drive the final act of the film there’s still a sense that it’s fulfilling a narrative drive, not just exploitational perversion. The entire scope of the film collapses in on itself like a black hole, ’till we’re left with the crowd of central characters gathered around a dining room table not being particularly nice to one another.
The film is well shot, and while its theatrical origins become even more noticeable the farther along the story goes, Friedkin does pretty well into avoiding it feeling stagy. The performances are certainly wrenching, with Gershon in particular letting it all hang out as she plumbs very dark depths indeed.
KILLER JOE isn’t a particularly enjoyable piece, but it’s well crafted and executed, and its commitment to see its story through to its brutal conclusion is to be lauded. While the film is unlikely to really garner more than minor praise, it’s still a taught, well directed film worthy of checking out.