Director William Friedkin has made a career out not being pigeonholed into a genre. I am sure that was not an easy task when you are behind such a classic as The Exorcist. Still, when you see other films like The French Connection, Cruising, Blue Chips, and Bug and you will see evidence of a man who won’t be stuck in a corner, a man who wants to tell stories no matter where they come from. Rather than play it safe, he looks for new worlds to play in, new stories to tell. His latest film, Killer Joe, is another step in that search for stories, offering up a playground of rednecks, killers, murder, and black comedy.
Killer Joe is a strange movie, a Southern-fried tale of revenge, murder, and weirdness. It is a spellbinding concoction that feels a like a mash up of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Even with all those adjectives, Killer Joe is also a straightforward tale that takes its time to setting up its characters before letting the weird set in and getting a full head of steam behind it. It is kind of like running downhill and trying to stop, it does not end well.
The film opens with Chris (Emile Hirsch) banging on the door of his father’s trailer in the middle of the night in a rainstorm. After being let in he tells his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), that he is in trouble. He has been kicked out of his mother’s house and is in deep with a local drug boss. Fortunately, the none too bright boy has hatched a plan to save his hide.
Chris and his father set out to hire Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a creepy local detective who moonlights as an assassin. The big idea is to kill Chris’s mother for the insurance money, whose beneficiary just happens to be his younger sister, the naive Dotty (Juno Temple). The payout would be enough to pay Joe, get Chris right with the drug boss and have a little to spare.
Now, this dysfunctional family does not exactly possess great intelligence. To that end, it is not a stretch to realize that things are going to go wrong. Problems crop up pretty quick as they do not have the money for Joe’s up front fee. In lieu of said money, Chris offers Dotty as a retainer. It is an offer Joe cannot refuse.
That is about as far as I will take the description. It is certainly told in a straightforward fashion,so you can probably guess where the plot is going. Still, even knowing how the plot will go, what makes this movie worthy of your attention is the what. What happens is what makes this movie pretty darn interesting. It is a movie to watch if only to see what happens. You may know how it will end, but you need to see how it gets there.
Killer Joe will leave a mark whether you love it or hate it. I watched, wondering how the murder for insurance will play out, but then something happened. I was blindsided by the maniacal direction it turns toward. I was unprepared for the darkly comic and disturbing depravity that bubbled to the surface as the climax approached.
The performances really help sell the downward spiral that everyone goes down. Matthew McConaughey delivers a charismatic performance as Joe, always in control, always self assured, and more than a bit menacing. Juno Temple delivers a subtle, brave performance that is sort of the lynchpin for everything that happens. Not to be forgotten is Gina Gershon who really goes all out as Chris’s stepmom.
Audio/Video. The film is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1. The film looks pretty good in this high definition transfer. Close ups provide a great level of detail, although many of the interior shots a deal softer, then there are the outdoor shots, which sizzle in a bright Texas sun. Director William Friedkin speaks of some of the choices during the commentary, noting that some shots were not completely clear and other faults, he explains they are there because he liked the takes. Interesting choice and I like that he puts the content over the style. Still, this is a nice looking transfer with no serious issues.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It is a really good track that is quiet with good fidelity throughout, with moments where the surrounds put you right in the film with a sounds that you do not necessarily expect. This is something else spoken about by Friedkin during the commentary, where he adds found sounds to the track, adding another level of authenticity. This is a nice soundtrack.
- Commentary. The track features William Friedkin and he talks about the movie, his introduction to writer Tracy Letts and their work on Bug, the performances, technical aspects, and all sorts of other topics. It is well worth a listen.
- Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen. This featurette discusses the adaptation between mediums. There are also interviews with the cast about being on set and developing their characters.
- SXSW Q and A with the Cast. This is a session with primary cast following a screening of the film.
- SXSW Intro by William Friedkin. This was a piped in intro to the film from Friedkin from Vienna.
- “White Trash” Red Band Trailer.
Bottomline. This is a fascinating film filled with characters I never hope to meet. It is one of those weird movies that I like but am not sure how much. I tell you, that last act is one for the ages, regardless of your feelings for the rest of the film, this will be the bit that sticks in your mind. William Friedkin speaks in his commentary about his desire to elicit an emotional reaction from you with his movies, that finale will do just that. See this movie.