KILLER JOE directed by William Friedkin (USA, 2011)
There is something sick and depraved at the heart of this movie, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
As the director of bona fide classics The French Connection and The Exorcist, William Friedkin has nothing to prove but it is as if he still wants to show audiences that he still has the power to shock and outrage audiences. It is the director’s second collaboration with screenwriter Tracy Letts after 2006’s Bug (which I haven’t seen).
About a third of the way in, you get the notion that the film is meant to be a kind of Southern Gothic black comedy but the noir-ish humor falls flat unless you’re the type who finds the exploitation and humiliation of women amusing or get off on watching repeated images of folks getting their heads beaten to a pulp.
The only reason to watch is is Matthew McConaughey, who is well cast as Joe Cooper, a suave yet cold-blooded cop with a lucrative side line as a paid assassin. My guess is that McConaughey accepted this part to get away from being typecast as a handsome good guy and he plainly revels in playing to his dark side.
One of the major flaws in the film is that all the events – set somewhere in Texas – exist in a low life vacuum; a world of ugly trailer parks and sleazy bars but little else.
We never get to see Joe doing legitimate police work and there’s practically no back story to any of the characters that would help understand their motives or empathize with their actions. As such they simply come across as dumb and desperate types who deserve everything that’s coming to them.
Joe is hired by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) to kill his estranged alcoholic mom as an insurance scam. It is a half-baked scheme which predictably goes pear-shaped.
In lieu of payment Joe takes Chris’ younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a ‘retainer’. Dottie seems a little retarded though in this company it’s hard to tell. She’s certainly a virgin until Joe has his wicked way with her. The stereotypical female contrast to this blonde ‘innocent’ is the brash and whorish (Gina Gershon) who also suffers at the hands of Joe in a brutal scene that is likely to put you off Kentucky Fried Chicken for life.
If the comedy stakes had been raised, this movie might conceivably have worked as a tongue-in-cheek pulp fiction. As a pseudo drama the misanthropic and misogynistic elements merely leave a bad taste in the mouth.