Matthew McConaughey sizzles in Killer Joe, a violent but alluring crime thriller from director William Friedkin. Though the movie isn't for everyone, Killer Joe is a rare return to form for the director whose best movies - led by The Exorcist and The French Connection - are from another age.
In the film, which is based on a play by Tracy Letts, Emile Hirsch stars as Chris Smith, a young man who devises the ingenious plan to hire a hit man (McConaughey) to kill his mother so he and his father (Thomas Haden Church) can claim the woman's life insurance policy, which will go to his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). As is often the case when you involve murder, money and idiots, things do not go as planned.
Killer Joe is like a Coen brothers movie without the comedy, a film where circumstances quickly spiral out of control and the characters continue to dig themselves into a deeper hole. Like the Coen brothers, Friedkin doesn't shy away from violence or other disturbing imagery, though that's where the comparisons end. Whereas a Coen crime thriller may be entertaining, Killer Joe is visceral, a refreshingly no-holds-bar exploration into the seedier side of life and death.
Killer Joe features several twists and turns that change the dynamic of the story, and as things get more twisted, it sheds its theatrical layers until all that is left is raw energy. The explosive, climactic scene with Gina Gershon, Matthew McConaughey and Thomas Haden Church is disturbing, wicked and wickedly well done, highlighted by McConaughey's performance which seems to only get better as time goes on. Things take an even darker turn in the following and final scene, where, like the film itself, McConaughey shoulders away the last of his charismatic restraints to reveal his true nature.
Originally rated NC-17, reduced to an R rating for its extremely limited theatrical run and unrated for its Blu-ray release, Killer Joe is a visceral film that thrives on its willingness to hold nothing back. The premise has been seen before, but the fine details and execution is where the film excels. Killer Joe is not a movie that everyone will like, but is a powerful one - and Friedkin's best movie in years.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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