Situated in the slums of southern Dallas, Killer Joe thrills viewers with dark humor and intense, realistic violence and sexuality, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a young, Texan drug dealer, who has become caught up in debt with the wrong people. With the threat of death hanging over his head if he doesn’t pay up, he devises a plan to murder his evil mother and collect her life insurance. He, along with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), hires professional killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas detective. Unable to pay the initial contract fee, Joe negotiates to hold Chris’s sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), as a sexual retainer until the life insurance is collected.
This movie fascinated me. It is not often that an NC-17 rated movie comes out, and Killer Joe makes it clear it deserves this rating. The final scene alone warranted the NC-17 label, and it brought my heart to an alarming rate, revealing how viciously violent and sexually deviant Killer Joe can be. Director William Friedkin does not give in to standard Hollywood timidity, instead employing unfiltered violence. Gashes, bleeding and bruising on Chris’s face were spot-on effects, and often I was convinced that McConaughey’s stage punches were authentic.
McConaughey is fantastic and pulls off an uncharacteristic role. Straying from the likeable, fun character he often plays, he becomes the Southern-mannered, calculated-yet-cold, creepy, viscous and perverted Killer Joe. Hirsch is convincing as the falsely arrogant protagonist, and Church displays well the stupidity of stereotypical uneducated, alcoholic, trailer-park-trash rednecks. Whether because of her character’s innocence or her traumatic past, Temple captures the audience with her ditziness and obsession with Killer Joe. Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts pull off a masterful work, brilliantly mixing sinister humor into a sick and twisted Texas murder story. In addition to the realism of the violence and sexuality, the characters and setting authentically portray the sleaze of white-trash culture of southern Dallas. Such dire circumstances make desperate schemes like those employed by the protagonists convincing, but I was left wishing for a more fleshed-out portrayal of the mother. Though explained in conversation, her evil and loathsome ways are never shown; her only appearance, right before she is killed, almost renders her a victim, undeserving of such treatment.
Killer Joe is a bold movie that does not shy from telling a gruesome murder tale how it should be told – unfiltered and realistic. McConaughey gives one of his best performances yet, fully embracing his character’s violent and sexual fetishes. The final scene, laced with situational irony, took me out of my seat in pure terror and utter fascination. Killer Joe will either enthrall you or send you for the exit. Just be prepared before you watch.