Two things enticed me to go see Killer Joe.
The first, was that Matthew McConaughey apparently gives the performance of his career. This I had to see to believe. I’ll be honest, I’m no fan of the buff blonde hotshot, and not simply because he reminds me of a Ken doll, but because I’ve never enjoyed any of the parts he’s ever played nor any of the movies he’s ever been in.
To me, that boy-next-door smile and made-for-rom-com wink were nothing but a mask for an all too safe, all too predictable kind of an actor.
The second enticement, was that this was an allegedly dark tale, full of suspense. Oh well, I do likes me dark suspense-filled tales I do.
With the hooks clearly in place, I take a seat in the busy Friday dinner-time screening, just daring director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The Guardian) to yank me into a whirlpool of darkness and serious acting, from none other than…Matthew McConaughey?
Well folks, the hooks ripped right through the skin on this one – the rumours are true and the film actually delivers.
The story involves Chris, a young drug dealer (Emile Hirsch), who contracts a hit-man to kill his mother, get the insurance money and ward off some angry debtors. What was surprising was that the film itself plays out like a piece of theatre. That shouldn’t have been surprising really, given that it was based on Tracy Letts’ 1993 piece of theatre of the same name. Having never seen the play, I can’t compare or contrast Friedkin’s take on it, but with Letts all over the screenplay it still has that intimate ‘live drama’ feel.
Friedkin takes his time to layer the story with simple and intimate visuals. In fact, the overall simplicity of the film is pretty impressive. With a well-known Hollywood director, some well-known actors, and a healthy $10 million budget, I kept expecting something bigger. Bigger twists, bigger cinematography, bigger post production. It was about ten minutes into the film that I understood, with joyful appreciation, that this was not that kind of film. Killer Joe knew exactly what it was going to do. It was going to look and feel like it was shot on a much lower-budget with good old special effects, not visual ones. It was also going to focus on powerful theatrical performances from every actor involved, with particular credit to McConaughey as Killer Joe, Juno Temple as trailer-park virgin and love interest Dotty (why are they always the love interest?) and slutty step-mom Sharla, played by Gina Gershon (who has great lips). Thomas Haden Church is great as Chris’ father Ansel, and provides much of the comic relief.
Put pure and simple, this adaptation sticks to the original story. Hurrah. And let’s face it, with Friedkin at the helm, it was never going to succumb to the kind of cheap-thrill Hollywood make-over one has sadly become accustomed to, and thank the Lord for that. It even keeps its explosions down to single figures.
If I had to pick holes, it would be the sensation that one or two of the technical elements fell under par and that the editing was perhaps a little rushed. Was I expecting more in this department from the man who brought us The Exorcist almost forty years ago? Yes, yes I was. Could it be that those niggley schoolboy errors were actually done with masterful intent? Yeah, I suppose. Should I stop being so anally retentive when it comes to focus-pulls and continuity when I have no authority on the subject? Yes, you sad sack.
All this being said, it does look good, and quite arty. The tone and pace perfectly complement the treacle-thick black humour that presents itself pretty much from the get-go. I’m talking as black as the charcoaled remains of Lucifer’s dirty boxer shorts here.
Content wise, there’s sex and food and death, all you need for a good night in really. It was dark, as promised, and McConaughey was brilliant, as promised. I wouldn’t call Killer Joe a high tempo thriller, more of a slow-boiling voyeuristic one. Think Columbo on a Texan trailer park. But a messed up Columbo, who has flipped on a strange lethal combo of Viagra and severe psychological problems. If that sounds up your street (and why wouldn’t it be?), then you’ll enjoy this hearty finger-lickin’ flick.