#69 - Killer Joe (William Friedkin)

A Healthy Diet

Usually when I’m excited about an upcoming film, like I was for “Killer Joe”, I try to stay away from any news about the film, or reading any reviews and reactions and such. I want to go in knowing as little as possible. However this is kind of a fool’s errand because I read a lot of film coverage and inadvertently get exposed to big news surrounding such films and even some form of critical consensus. Which in the end is not all too bad if you ask me since it allows me to adjust my expectations accordingly. Thankfully that was not necessary with “Killer Joe” because the buzz surrounding the film was mostly positive.
And as odd as it may seem when I heard that the film was having trouble with the ratings board I got even more excited. Yes it’s kind of horrible news for the film, but for me it also meant that Hurricane Billy might be back finally. So my reasons for being excited are very simple really; it’s all about William Friedkin, a director I’ve already written about quite a bit. But then I see the cast that he gathered here and the fact that he’s working with some potent material – it’s enough to know that the end result might be quite an explosive concoction. And I am elated to say that the film delivers on that potential.

So, apart from being a return to form for Friedkin, “Killer Joe” is a pitch black comedy disguised as a crime thriller. The story of the film is set in Texas and follows Chris (Emile Hirsch), a young man indebted to a local drug lord. Chris comes with a proposition for Ansel, his father (Thomas Haden Church), he wants to hire a killer to kill his mother so that they can claim the 50.000 dollar worth insurance policy on her life. The man that’s supposed to do the dirty work is Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), and after a night at the local strip club Ansel agrees to meet with Joe.
It’s a simple plan but if it was that simple there would be no movie. Joe wants payment in advance, and Chris and Ansel cannot cover the expenses so Joe settles for a retainer – Chris’ sister Dottie (Juno Temple). The events that unfold grow quite bizarre leading up to some really uncomfortable and violent scenarios. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s one scene in the film that feels like it’s designed to make fast food disgusting to anyone who sees the film. Just in case if you’re not already disgusted by it.
The violence is very graphic although it is nothing we haven’t seen before in other movies, it’s just the context that makes it very disturbing. But it goes quite naturally with the white trash and trailer park backdrop just like the black humor, which is usually the product of the ridiculously dysfunctional and foul-mouthed family of Chris’. Then when you throw in a kinky psychopath in the mix things get real fun.

What makes this film work so well is the cast first and foremost as everyone involved is really making great things happen with what I must say is a rather shoddy script. The main problem of the script is that the characters are the predictable cliché white trash stereotypes, and the events kind of unfold without much rhyme or reason. In one scene Chris is telling Joe to do it, and in the very next scene that follows he already changed his mind and begs him not to do it. But that doesn’t matter much because the film does the main things right - it has an interesting story to tell, the humor is black as the night, the violence is shocking and believable, and the scene by scene direction is masterful and the film looks awesome on the screen. The cinematography of “Killer Joe” is actually quite exceptional, without ever being too showy.
Bottom line is that this is a great return for William Friedkin. It’s the kind of film that I always wanted to see him do in the 90’s and 00’s, which pretty much means that this is clearly a film that is not for everyone. But if you enjoy films that go to some twisted places and do it with style and humor, than “Killer Joe” might just be the film for you.


Matthew McConaughey - Joe Cooper
Emile Hirsch - Chris Smith
Juno Temple - Dottie Smith
Gina Gershon - Sharla Smith
Thomas Haden Church - Ansel Smith

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