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Killer Joe

July 1, 2012

Killer Joe (2012)
Director: William Friedkin
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple

Killer Joe

Synopsis: The trailer-trash Smith family get more than they bargain for when they hire rogue cop, Joe Cooper (Matthew McConuaghey), to kill a family member so they can benefit from the life insurance.

Review: William Friedkin returns with another of his low-fi, plot-driven films, and building on the basis of a good source text from Tracy Letts, he succeeds in churning out the cinematic equivalent of a really good page-turner. What I always admire about Friedkin is the industrial leanness with which he communicates his narratives – there are no odious character backstories or pretentious cinematographic flourishes – instead we are thrown straight into the mechanics of the plot as the film opens on Emile Hirsch’s frantic son looking for his dad (a brilliantly sombre performance from Thomas Haden Church) to let him know the insurance scam idea.

Killer Joe also has more to offer than its simple narrative intrigue. It’s an interesting document on life in the backwaters of a ‘palookaville’ American community (in this case northern Texas), and it’s also a useful essay on the nature of tyranny, and how it cowers and make zealots of the weak and vulnerable. The closing scene where the eponymous ‘Killer Joe’ wreaks his revenge on the calamitous Smith family is fascinating (Friedkin makes clear metaphysical allusions to Joe as the ‘devil’ and the Smiths inviting him into their family affairs as a form of Faustian pact), and it’s so telling when the family turn on young Chris rather than Killer Joe, despite the fact that Joe has quite literally just terrorised the lot of them. Making this plot dynamic work is a really gripping performance by Matthew McConaughey in the title role. It’s a really well-judged performance, many an actor would chew the scenery as the evil cop, but McConaughey plays it in a very slow, controlled manner – never being other than himself – but letting the sheer depravity and amorality of his character out itself scene by scene. (July 2012)

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