Review: Killer Joe

Slowly but surely Matthew McConaughey is beginning to shed his ‘Heart Throb’ status and evolve into something rather sinister, slimy if you may. It all started with last year’s The Lincoln Lawyer which showed a darker side of McConaughey; arguably it could have been passed off as a star going against his star image for subversion purposes. But, Friedkin’s Killer Joe shows more than that, it’s a watershed moment for McConaughey. This arguably isn’t a little phase for McConaughey but a role he adopts best, peculiarly he’s at his most alluring when he’s a threatening force.

Killer Joe follows the Smith family (a poor, trashy Texan family living in a caravan park). Realising they need money to pay off a loan shark they hire Killer Joe to kill Ansel Smith’s ex wife in order to inherit her $50,000 life insurance policy. However, with no upfront money to hand the Smiths have to bargain in a completely different way: with their daughter’s life.

Friedkins Killer Joe works and works well because of the anti hero at its helm. Yes Matthew McConaughey drives the film. His charming performance manages to neutralise any acid he spits in your face when you first meet him; he’s the true subversion of the Texan Gentleman.  McConaughey has distilled every archetypal mannerism of this Southern gentlemanly image and makes the audience feel comfortable before snapping at their ankles. One scene during the climax of the film shows McConaughey not only at his acting apex but provides audiences with one of the most uncomfortable experiences in recent years.

However, for a film so nasty Friedkin balances it out with a side of black humour and my God is the humour black. These are the sort of jokes that when you laugh feels like they’ve left marks up your ribcage, they’re exploitive of your better aspects. You laugh without 100% processing what you’re laughing at and when you do, it’s all too late. However, Friedkin makes sure the script or the laughs delve into too sickening a territory as to make the film feel overtly malicious: in fact they balance out the mood nicely, when things get a bit too heavy the script is on hand to loosen the valve of tension and allow the audience to breathe once more. Without the humour, the film would have been almost too much to bear.

From the moment Killer Joe starts audiences are forced into a violent bubble; everything on screen screams violence. We’ve got the lightening, the aggressive dog and the ominous score and rarely does this atmosphere of violence and dread let up. Friedkin has us in his chokehold and won’t let go until he’s seen us squirm, I can see why it received an NC-17 rating upon release in America. Friedkin details the characters so impeccably that the violence against them feels almost personal and even nastier than it is. Whilst it’s not Friedkin’s best (although Killer Joe is a fantastic piece of cinema) it’s the perfect slice of subversion Summer entertainment.

18 certificate

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (July ’12)