Note: While we published a review of Killer Joe on Monday, another of our writers also saw the film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Here’s his take…
As countless men have been telling their girlfriends for years; there is something deeply sinister about that Matthew McConaughey fellow that they’re so fond of. Now, the rom-com stalwart has kindly decided to prove them right by starring as the titular Joe, a Dallas detective who moonlights as a hired killer. Joe is hired by the debt-ridden failed drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) to bump off his worthless mother for her $50,000 life insurance policy.
Chris manages to rope his preternaturally stupid dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) in to his dastardly scheme and the pair predictably fail to come up with the required advance payment. Luckily Joe has taken a disturbing shine to Dottie (Juno Temple), Chris’s simple minded little sister and agrees to take her as a “retainer until the job is done and payment is made. Unfortunately due to Chris’s scheming stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) and Joe’s increasingly perverse obsession with Dottie it soon becomes clear that this will not end well.
Killer Joe is a joyously squalid and sleazy slice of neo-noir based on the play by Tracey Letts and helmed by William Friedkin, the legend behind The French Connection and The Exorcist, whose recent career has never met the heights of those classics. But nothing in Friedkin’s back catalogue would suggest he’d one day out Coen the Coen Brothers with one of the darkest, most twisted comedy films ever made. In fact the humour here is so dark and twisted that a good portion of the audience probably won’t even realise they’re watching a comedy, half will be laughing at the sheer, unrelenting, over-the-top bleakness and the other half will be giving them nervous glances and trying to change seats.
With the exception of Juno Temple’s Dottie, the characters are all terrible people, so it’s a credit to the cast that they’re all so watchable. Chris is the closest thing the film has to a protagonist and although he’s a snivelling scumbag, Emile Hirsch manages to make him sympathetic as he tries to dig himself and his sister out of the mess he’s made and dreams of a better life. Thomas Haden Church is totally convincing as a man with the mental agility of a slug as is Gina Gershon as a master manipulator who’s finally met her match. But the film belongs to Juno Temple and Matthew McConaughey; every scene they share together is creepy enough to make you squirm in your seat thanks to Dotties’ indeterminate age and Temple’s wide-eyed performance.
But these scenes are mostly effective, as is the entire film, because of McConaughey’s image-shattering turn as one of the great screen villains of recent memory. Joe is such a warped, dead-eyed lunatic (as Dottie keeps repeating “his eyes hurt) that after seeing this film it’s hard to imagine ever buying McConaughey as a bland romantic lead ever again. And after the staggeringly messed-up denouement where the true extent of Joe’s psychosis is revealed it’s also hard to imagine ever enjoying KFC again.
Overall Verdict: An excessively grim piece of comedy noir that’s built around what is hopefully a career-redefining performance from Matthew McConaughey. Killer Joe is sure to divide audiences but for those that get the humour it’s a fantastically twisted tale.
Reviewer: Adam Pidgeon