It’s been six whole years since US master director William Friedkin (best known for 1973’s The Exorcist) last brought his talents to the big screen, but he’s now returned with his exposé of hick life Killer Joe (2011), starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple. In the depths of Texas live the dysfunctional Smith family. The eldest child Chris (Hirsch) is in trouble with a local gangster to whom he owes more money than he can ever hope to pay back.
Stuck in this hopeless situation, Chris concocts a plan with his father, stepmother and sister Dottie (Temple) to have his mother killed for her life insurance policy. Knowing that they would never be able to carry out the murder themselves, they decide to hire hitman Joe (McConaughey), cop by day and gun for hire at night. Unable to give Joe the advance he requires, they offer up sister Dottie as a ‘retainer’ until they can cash the policy.
From Killer Joe’s opening sequence, with its booming click of a Zippo lighter, audiences will be hooked, followed by the in-your-face scene where Gina Gershon, naked from the waste down, greets her stepson only to quickly break into a slapping match. Friedkin perfectly captures this dysfunctional family that oscillates between drinking, sex and violence. The backdrop of Texas is suitably seedy with its run-down trailer parks, guarded by pitbulls and gangsters on Harley’s, adding to the overall feel of the film.
McConaughey’s performance as Joe, the psychopath killer with some extreme sexual fetishes, is particularly impressive, as is Temple’s portrayal of a warped young girl who wishes she could break away from her horrendous circumstances. Thomas Haden Church also gives an excellent performance as Ansel, the father of the family, capturing perfectly the character’s naivety and simple-mindedness.
The gripping plot moves along at a good pace being suitably intense, breaking every so often to provide respite for the audience. On the whole this is successful, but towards the middle of the film the action wanes a little, only for a quick recovery which leads into a tremendous third and final act. The plot is cunningly dealt out, with some fantastic twists and turns.
Evidently, Friedkin still has the power to make tremendous films. Whilst he will always be remembered for The Exorcist, Killer Joe demands your attention – you’ll never look at fried chicken in the same way again.