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Killer Joe

Killer Joe

Released 29 June 2012
Director William Friedkin

Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon
Writer(s) Tracy Letts
Producer(s) Nicolas Chartier, Scott Einbinder
Origin United States
Running Time 103 minutes
Genre Black comedy, thriller
Rating 18

The Dirty South.

Younger readers mightn’t remember it, but there was a brief time when Matthew McConaughey wasn’t regarded as a universal douchebag. Before he sold his soul to become an unbearably smug perfume model McConaughey did actually show promise as an actor in a number of small roles. He was sleazily charismatic in Dazed and Confused and showed a dark side in films like Lone Star and Frailty.

However he got his first big break as the lead in the dull A Time to Kill and as a leading man he took a few perfunctory action roles before securing a lucrative niche in the most dreaded of genres, romantic comedies. The Wedding Planner was bad, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days was worse again and Failure to Launch was simply cruel and unusual punishment. Check out Stewie Griffin’s rant about McConaughey on Family Guy. It’s spot on!

So perhaps sick of all the abuse, McConaughey has taken on a more daring role in this dark comedy from William Friedkin, the veteran director best known for The French Connection and The Exorcist. Since those massive hits in the seventies, Friedkin has mostly made rubbish although he did get some good reviews in 2006 for Bug. It was an adaptation of a Tracy Letts play and so is Killer Joe.

The action is set in the Deep South, as comedian Rich Hall puts it, the one place Hollywood is allowed to indulge is as many racist stereotypes as it likes. So it’s trailer parks, fried chicken for dinner and a white trash family. Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a small-time drug dealer who’s struggling to pay off a debt to his cocaine supplier. So he turns to his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) with a plan to kill Adele, his mother and Ansel’s ex-wife, to collect $50,000 on her life insurance policy. The policy would pay out to Chris’s sister Dottie (Juno Temple).

Dottie is an odd, shy young woman and she overhears them but agrees to go along with the plan as Adele has long been abusive and neglectful of her. So Chris contacts Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a local police detective who has a sideline gig as a hitman. When they meet, Joe insists on being paid in advance but Chris and Ansel are broke. So Joe proposes that he takes Dottie as a “retainer”. Chris doesn’t like it but goes along with the deal and Joe and Dottie strike up an unusual relationship and Joe becomes ever more involved with the family’s affairs.

This is a mixture of film noir and black comedy that gets marks for effort but doesn’t quite come together. All the cast give committed performances, especially McConaughey who’s very good as the tightly wound Joe, who starts to unravel at the end. It culminates in a scene where he sexually humiliates Ansel’s wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) with a fried chicken drumstick. The extended scene is gruelling and nastily unpleasant and it adds to the tone of misogyny that’s there throughout.

English actress Temple is good as Dottie but Haden Church gets most of the laughs as the wonderfully dense Ansel. This is McConaughey’s film though and it is just about worth seeing for his performance alone, although you may never look at a chicken drumstick in the same way again.

- Jim O’Connor