Murder, trailer parks, backstabbing, and…fried chicken? Some interesting ingredients to a film, but William Friedkin’s KILLER JOE utilizes all four of them into a movie that is at times hilarious, awkward and downright scary all at once. While it’s not necessarily a horror film per se’, there are quite a few interesting and sometimes brutal elements to it that put it close enough for me to spend some time on it here. So, slip on your boots, dust off your southern accents, and heat up that chicken, it’s KILLER JOE time.
Adapted by actor/playwright Tracy Letts from his 1993 play and directed by the great William Friedkin (they had previously collaborated on 2006’s BUG), KILLER JOE focuses on Chris (Emile Hirsch), a small time drug dealer who is knee deep in debt to a local loan shark/dealer and is desperate to not get himself killed over it. Chris needs money and he needs it quick, so with a little persuading, he talks his father Ansel (a HILARIOUS Thomas Haden Church) into a pitch that seems insane right from the get-go: hiring a police detective/sometimes hitman named KILLER JOE (Matthew McConaughey) to kill Ansel’s ex-wife/Chris’s mom and collect her insurance money. While he refuses at first, it doesn’t take long to change Ansel’s mind, and after adding his current wife, Sharla to the conspiring gang, Ansel and Chris arrange to meet Joe. When Chris and Ansel admit to Joe that they don’t have his $25,000 deposit to do the job, Joe at first walks but then decides to take Chris’s little sister Dottie as a retainer until the life insurance comes through, setting off a chain of events that doesn’t end well for well..anyone. It’s rare that a movie is filled with characters that are so despicable yet impossible NOT to like, and KILLER JOE excels at just that. With a drop of a dime, they have no problem selling each other out, and I can’t think of a single redeemable character in the film, but it’s a lot of fun to see them continually try to think of ways to walk away with the money for themselves.
Throughout the film, it’s a good balance between humor and drama but where it goes off the rails completely (and I mean that as a compliment) is during the final scene. Things get pretty intense and McConaughey turns in one of the craziest scenes of his career thus far (think his role in the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION and multiply it by 100 in terms of being insane). I won’t give much away but I will say that I won’t ever look at fried chicken the same…you’ll get it.
Aside from a very solid script, and some amazing cinematography by Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey, and also the cinematographer of one of my all-time favorite films, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE), the casting is where KILLER JOE succeeds the most. As soon as McConaughey comes into the movie as Joe, he eats up every scene he’s in, and to be completely honest, so does everyone else. Hirsch and Haden Church are great as the father/son duo who downright loathe each other and bicker more than an old married couple. The chemistry between them is pretty awesome to watch, and Haden Church is by far the funniest part of the movie. Also on top of her game is Gina Gershon as Ansel’s wife Sharla. She’s the epitome of white trash, wearing large shirts with absolutely nothing for bottoms, cussing like a sailor, drinking beer and stealing quite a few scenes herself as well. Friedkin killed it when it came to casting this one and I’d EASILY put this one up there in his top 5 movies as far as I’m concerned. He definitely hasn’t lost his touch and KILLER JOE shows that he is STILL one of the most consistent directors around. Give it a watch and let me know what you think.
KILLER JOE comes out on dvd/bluray on DEC. 21st via LD Entertainment.