French Connection director William Friedkin adds his vision to Tracy Letts’ 1993 offbeat crime thriller about small time crook Chris Smith’s (Emile Hirsch) misguided plan to kill his mother for a large life insurance policy. Hirsch’s (Milk, The Girl Next Door) portrayal of the young dealer indebted to the local drug baron Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay) sets a caper-ish tone for the film. Hoping to solve all his problems he contacts murder-for-hire Cooper and soon finds he’s in way over his head.
Sideways star Thomas Haden Church steals most scenes as his dumb-witted father Ansel Smith, who blindly goes along with every ill considered suggestion including the use of his daughter Dottie as an unpalatable deal sweenter. Juno Temple (Atonement, Notes on a Scandal) is hypnotic as Ansel’s damaged daughter and the British actress adds an extra dimension to the movie. The dysfunctional Texas family is completed by Dottie’s money hungry and unfaithful stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) who injects an entertaining dynamic into the film.
With such a fascinating group of odd-ball characters Killer Joe could have easily slipped into comedic farce but it quickly moved to darker places, much of it uncomfortable viewing, especially Cooper’s twisted courtship of Dottie, which was hard to stomach, manipulating and coercing a young and innocent girl into an unwanted sexual relationship.
But the film’s final scene in the Smith’s kitchen is the most disturbing, for its violence, southern fried sexual abuse (an internet sensation in the making) and, sadly, McConaughey’s overacting. Unlike Friedkin’s previous classics, Killer Joe has neither the tension nor the grit, which wasn’t helped by the exaggerated strutting of McConaughey’s Cooper, who tries too hard to be sinister and is at times ridiculous.
Killer Joe is an interesting attempt at something different for Friedkin and McConaughey in a similar vein to 2011’s crime thriller Drive but unlike Ryan Gosling’s driver Killer Joe Cooper left no lasting impression.
General Release, Cert 18