top of page



Director: William Friedkin


Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church

Would you like deep fried fellatio with that?


Oscar winner William Friedkin and Pulitzer Prize recipient Tracy Letts team up once more (after 2006’s bonkers Bug) on Killer Joe, a dark crime thriller set in an underprivileged trailer park in Dallas, Texas. Based upon Letts’ play of the same name, the movie stays true to the source material and, like its director, pulls no punches.


It’s sleazy, dirty, grubby, humorous and polarizing.

Greeted at the door of his father Ansel’s (Church) trailer by his naked stepmother Sharla’s (Gershon) genitalia, Chris Smith (Hirsch) isn’t having a great day. He has been kicked out of his mother’s house and he is in deep with local big-time drug dealers – a debt he cannot pay because his mother stole from his cocaine stash, a stash that was to be sold to pay back the dealers. But he has a plan – have his mother killed and collect her $50,000 life insurance kitty. Simple. As his younger sister, Dottie (Temple), is the sole beneficiary and would surely split the cash, what could go wrong?


Luckily, Ansel isn’t the sharpest tool in the box – far from it – and he agrees to participate in the hiring of the charming yet cold hitman “Killer” Joe Cooper (McConaughey), a police detective who moonlights as a killer for hire. They agree to pay Joe’s hefty fee from the insurance money and split the rest between themselves, Dottie and Sharla. Better news comes when Dottie agrees with the plan, now they just need Joe on board. Problem is, Joe isn’t on board and will only accept the payment upfront – until he notices the young Dottie and decides she will suffice as a “retainer” for his services. Time to go with the man, Dottie.


Tough and unflinching, Killer Joe delivers a gothic neo-noir that will undoubtedly be seen as divisive due to its high count of violence - sexual and physical - abuse, undesirable themes and an infamous scene involving a KFC chicken leg. The grounded and absurd approach Friedkin strives for pays off for the majority of the movie, the characters are generally well-drawn and the environment is unforgiving. Thunder crackles in the distance, oil drums burn mercilessly, pitbulls bark and howl in their chained state, the trailer the Smiths’ reside in is dingy, dark and grungy – DoP Caleb Deschanel does a fine job with creating the unnamed area where mediocrity is too high a bar. Strip club scenes sizzle with neon lights and unused billiard bars become ominous due to the cinematography. It all looks pretty intimidating.


Matthew McConaughey is the star of the show with a charismatic, icy turn as the hitman swathed in reptilian charm and cold menace. It’s a magnetic performance dripping in depravity and allure – this is pretty much where McConaughey began his turn from rom-com bozo to Hollywood heavyweight. Juno Temple carries herself admirably in a tough role requiring more than standing about and looking pretty and Thomas Haden Church is humorously and affably likable as the father roped into his son’s braindead scheme – providing the majority of the movies ‘humour’. Gershon and Hirsch are fine, but their characters are fairly by-numbers.


The action, aka fight scenes/assaults, is brutal and well-choreographed, every hit is accompanied by a bruising sound effect that will make you wince. Nearly everyone is subjected to a beating of some kind and their visceral, at times controversial, nature loiters. On the subject of controversy, Killer Joe has its fair share. Joe and Dottie’s relationship evolves into a sexual one immediately, despite Dottie’s youth and her deflowering, whilst strangely graceful, is still dark. The infamous lingering scene involving Joe, KFC and a female character will also drag you into uncomfortable places – the direction ensures you have no choice but to absorb what’s happening in a gratuitous, forceful scene. Joe’s misogynistic mannerisms will not sit well with some, undoubtedly. Friedkin may or may not have strived for shock value, but he certainly achieves it.


The transition from stage to screen is successful for the vast majority of the movie and the origins are apparent throughout also. Characters are left off-screen despite being pivotal to the story, portions of dialogue have a theatrical, elegiac quality to them – too much, at times – and scenes are shot in long, persistent takes akin to watching a stage show. It’s a well shot, well-paced movie.


The controversy and debauchery overshadow Killer Joe, which is a shame as the story is very decent – the movie is probably Friedkin’s most notorious since Cruising. McConaughey excels as the eponymous character and Friedkin proves he still has it. Whether you like the movie, you’ll like the cast. You’ll also need a good scrub after, but Killer Joe, beyond it all, is a very good noir movie full of twists, suspense and boasting a compelling narrative.


I’ll take the boneless breast, please.

November 8th 2017

bottom of page