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Killer Joe - DVD Review

Killer Joe

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

ARE you sitting uncomfortably? You should be to best savour the warped ‘delights’ and/or perversities of William Friedkin’s Killer Joe.

Based on the play by Tracy Letts, the film features a career re-defining performance from Matthew McConaughey, an eye-opening one from Juno Temple and enough acts of red-neck depravity to leave you literally squirming and, quite possibly, going queasy at the thought of fried chicken for some time afterwards!

The plot follows the fortunes of down-at-heel Chris (Emile Hirsch), a drug dealer who attempts to get out of the debts he owes by teaming up with his idiot father (Thomas Haden Church) and trailer-trash step-mom (Gina Gershon) to hire a hit-man to kill off his mother in order to cash in on her life insurance.

Enter Killer Joe (McConaughey), a detective by day who immediately takes a shine to Chris’ oddball sister (Temple) and who finds his own life inextricably becoming entwined to Chris’ family once things start to go awry with his payment.

Friedkin, whose best films include The Exorcist and The French Connection, hints at reaching the heights of those films during the early, opening exchanges of his latest but can’t quite keep a lid on things come the utterly bonkers, overly violent and utterly unpleasant ending.

Instead, what starts out as a potential Southern Gothic classic ends up a curiosity piece that will put off more people than it pleases, while undoubtedly casting both McConaughey and Temple in new light.

A couple of moments of sexual depravity, in particular, should leave viewers feeling uneasy and lend the film something of an unpleasant after-taste.

It’s a shame given that there is also a lot to admire in the film, not least McConaughey’s striking central performance. His cool, calculated, sometimes despicable killer is a terrific role for him, which he embraces whole-heartedly (and which recalls the quality of his earlier work in the likes of Lone Star).

But there’s strong support, too, from Temple (kookily sweet, often in ways that are hard to watch), Haden Church as the clueless, cowardly dad, and Hirsch, as the hapless trigger for much of what ensues.

Friedkin, too, deserves credit for creating such a sweaty, unpleasant brew that captures the essence of red-neck America, while refusing to pull the film’s punches. It’s just that in attempting to shock, he sometimes goes a little too far, much in the same way as Michael Winterbottom did with the similarly distasteful The Killer Inside Me.

That said, Friedkin’s film has a knowing sense of its own absurdity that arguably puts it more on a par with the likes of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. It’s a film that’s difficult to shake from the memory once seen and which looks destined for cult status.

And even when objecting to some of its content, it’s a hard film to pull yourself away from once you get immersed into its world. Whether that excuses its excesses, though, is another point entirely.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 103mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: November 5, 2012