Running Time: 102 minutes
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon.
Directed By: William Friedkin
Rating: 7 out of 10
A man hires a contract killer so he can claim the insurance money from the hit.
I used to hate him but like a single malt Scotch, Matthew McConaughey is only getting better with age. Maybe he is picking better roles? Maybe he is keeping his shirt on and is staying out of the sun? Whatever the case, he is delivering better and better movies as time goes by. Killer Joe is the story of Chris Smith. A debt has put his life in danger, and so he hires Killer Joe to murder his mother in order to collect a large insurance pay out.
Red necks and dysfunction usually go hand in hand, and those two things are captured perfectly in this movie. The film starts out and we see Chris as he is stressing about a rather large debt that he has incurred while selling drugs. It doesn’t take a shot of his step mom pulling off a Julianne Moore classic (shirt but no bottoms) to know that these people are hicks. Chris needs money and he needs it fast. With the help of his dad, they hatch a scheme to make everyone rich (well, rich for them). It involves a murder plot and a large insurance payout. The only problem is they don’t have the stones to do it themselves. Enter Killer Joe. He is a smooth killer for hire, and he oozes confidence. I liked the first half of the movie for various reasons. I liked the bleakness of the poor trailer park existence. I liked the unique and unhealthy relationships between virtually every character that is presented. I liked the desperateness caused by owing powerful men a relatively small amount of money. And I liked that the film traverses a dark line with no clear trajectory. Not much happens, other than uneducated conversations and uneducated decisions, but it completely held my attention.
The acting/characters are really what make this film as good as it is. Without all these great performances, the movie would have clearly been lacking. Chris Smith is played by Emile Hirsch. He is one of these actors that doesn't get enough credit in my mind, but he does a great job in guiding this film to where it needed to be. He is the so called brains of the operation, and it is up to him to make the tough decisions. He is very much the adult, as his dad is just a simple man living a simple existence. His dad is played by Thomas Haden Church. His performance reminded me of an R Rated Lowell, from Wings. He was simple but thoughtful when he needs to be. I haven’t seen Gina Gershon in many a year but she nailed the middle age, bitchy step mom character. She was equal parts trashy to unclassy. Juno Temple plays Chris’s younger sister (Dottie.) She is a pretty girl with obvious mental health issues as she spouts random nonsense from time to time (Apparently, Temple was up for Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies, and if you watch this then you will see why.) Temple is one to watch as she was fantastic in her oddball way. Lastly, there is Killer Joe played by Matthew McConaughey. This was an interesting role for McConaughey but he steals the show. He is quiet, but his actions speak volumes. He is polite, but is also unsettling. He is charming, but also professionally cool. He is engaging, but also borderline sociopathic. It is a shame he wasn’t recognized by the Academy for this film as he was excellent.
Obviously things don’t run smoothly or this wouldn’t be much of a film. As Killer Joe prepares to pull off the job, questions start to pop up about his intentions. What should have been a quick and easy operation starts to see many issues arising. Chris is running out of time to pay back the debt and he doesn’t fully trust Killer Joe. Killer Joe doesn’t seem to be focusing on the task at hand and seems more intent on romancing Dottie. The rest of the family has vested interests but stays in the background while letting the crime play out. Money can tear the closest family apart so imagine what it can do when they all hate each other? As the film comes to an end, I was truly surprised at how much I liked this when there are so many lowlife characters. In conclusion, this film is raw, gritty, and at times can be excessively violent. The conversations and the formed relationships will keep you captivated at all times. The planned murder and money problems seem like after thoughts as you watch these degenerates try to function within normal society. This movie flew under most people’s radars but should not be missed as it is dark, quirky, and can even be humorous at times (In a dark way.)
Director William Friedkin takes a Tracy Letts screenplay and delivers a solid film. Friedkin has been doing this for a long time, so the film has very little wasted screen time. He lets the actors own their characters/scenes and the viewers are rewarded for his faith. This film could easily have been mired in a depressing state, but he presents the dysfunction in an entertaining way. This is a great shot film that will ultimately get little recognition, which is a shame.
I give this movie a recommendation but especially to those people looking for something outside of the mainstream, and who appreciate great acting.
T Factor + If you like quirky/strange films then this could score higher on the rating scale.
T Factor – If you don’t not like Matthew McConaughey as an actor then this could score lower on the rating scale.
IF you liked this film reel recommendations: Bug, Very Bad Things.