William Friedkin knows exactly how to put the thriller right into the face of an audience. None of his films (Rules of Engagement, The Exorcist, The French Connection) shock and awe as much as Killer Joe, Friedkin's new feature starring Magic Mike's Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon and Juno Temple.
The title character, played by McConaughey, is a Texas lawman who makes a living on the side as a for-hire killer. The Smith family, led by a crazy get-rich-quick idea by son Chris (Hirsch), hires Killer Joe to take out his estranged mother. His father Ansel (Haden Church) goes along with the idea and so does Ansel's current wife Sharla (Gershon).
They claim it’s best for all involved, especially for the daughter, Dottie (Temple).
Friedkin has crafted a tale the size of Texas, even if a majority of the action takes place inside the Smith family trailer, and it’s easy to see why -- Killer Joe is based on a play by Tracy Letts. The film maintains that stage-play quality and the result is an explosion of acting talent from performers playing completely against type.
The Killer Joe poster showed hints that Hirsch and McConaughey would deliver mysterious and astounding performances. Both actors turn in the best work of their career. McConaughey is a killer who yearns for a familial situation so badly, he lets down his iron-clad guard to be welcomed into this twisted family and he may lose everything in the process. Hirsch is the conflicted child who never received any love from his mother. Before you think the film is going Freud on you, Friedkin turns things violently on its head.
Hirsch portrays one of the less redeemable characters we’ve seen onscreen this year, yet the audience still pulls for him to come out the other side of this thriller unscathed. Quickly, we learn that is clearly not possible. He gets banged, bruised, beaten and assaulted in a multitude of ways. But, in the end, he has made this bed and his Chris has to sleep in it.
Temple, after wowing Movie Fanatic in Dirty Girl, continues her impressive run. The British actress is perfectly at home as a Texas trailer park teenager with dreams of grandeur and an innocence that is fueled by her turning a blind eye to the madness that is the world she inhabits. Our Killer Joe review extols, above all else, that you will not believe the character arc the young actress has sent Dottie through. It is haunting and impressive.
Then there is Haden Church. The way the actor portrays the Smith patriarch, one believes he is not the brightest of individuals. Yet, when all hell breaks loose, it is he who has the firmest knowledge as to why the situation got so explosive.
Without giving away anything that has to do with the ending, we will say this: Killer Joe possesses one of the most insane conclusions to a film we have seen in a long time. For that reason alone, Friedkin’s latest is worth the price of admission. Toss in a stellar cast bringing their best and Killer Joe is one killer of a movie.
Oh, and lastly... if McConaughey doesn't get nominated for an Oscar for this film, it is snub number one.