Since Friedkin gave us claustrophobic horror Bug back in 2006, his transition into television, namely directing episodes of CSI, has allowed him to step away from the Hollywood limelight. Bug was impressive but criminally overlooked due to a poor distribution in cinemas. It is now 2012 and, once again, in a small, dishevelled trailer we meet the Smith family for Friedkin’s latest picture Killer Joe.
Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) owes money to the local town gangster. Upon hearing that his mother has a 50k life insurance policy, Chris and his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) hire ‘Killer Joe’ (Matthew McConaughey) to carry out the deed. However, like many plans involving murder, this one is doomed to fail…
Although, officially, McConaughey was seen playing serious roles in Mud and The Paperboy at Cannes earlier this year, Killer Joe will be very much an eye opener to the average cinemagoer. Adapted from a play, the film is very character driven with a number of long, open scenes, heavy with dialogue, which one could imagine on a stage. McConaughey delivers a flawless performance as the cold, calculated killer who keeps his motives enigmatic. At first it is all about business but after meeting Chris’ sister Dottie (Juno Temple), he agrees to keep her as a retainer until he is paid his share of the life insurance.
What allows Killer Joe to maintain its intrigue throughout is the inability to guess where Friedkin will go next. The premise seems predictable but because so little is given away by ‘Joe’, it becomes very hard to predict how he is going to react and what the fate of the family will be. The comedic elements are spot-on and delivered with expert precision and the now infamous scene involving a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken is shocking, but not nearly as shocking as other critics have made out.
With a few questionable decisions on the editing front, Killer Joe is no masterpiece. However, a very well chosen cast carries its simple plot superbly. It may not be a film that you take your nearest and dearest to, but as a piece of art, Friedkin has done himself proud.
Watch the trailer for Killer Joe here: