Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2012): Director William Friedkin’s films have been called many things over the years, but “subtle” has never been one of them. While his brash, purposely nuance-free style can sometimes prove overpowering, when it clicks with the right material, it booms brilliantly. Killer Joe, Friedkin’s reunion with playwright Tracy Letts (Bug), finds the director’s in-your-face expressionist tendencies working like gangbusters, propelling this black comedy to places where most movies fear to tread. The laughs become winces, and vice versa.
Letts’ script (adapted from his play) follows a Texas bottomfeeder (Emile Hirsch) with some serious gambling debts. Looking for a way out, he teams with his dim dad (a hilarious Thomas Hayden Church) to hire a legendary hitman (Matthew McConaughey) for some dirty work. When the duo fail to come up with the collateral, however, Killer Joe sets his sights on Hirsch’s beautiful sister (Juno Temple). Things go downhill at warp speed from there.
Trafficking in bad taste from the very first scene (Gina Gershon makes a sleazy entrance for the ages), Friedkin and Letts take a no holds barred approach to their low morality tale, depicting even the darkest moments with overwrought relish. The already unstable mood is only boosted by the somehow endearing scuzziness of Hirsch, Temple’s lovely space cadet, and the fantastic Church, who deadpan annihilates every line and reaction shot tossed his way. Ruling the roost, however, is McConaughey, who spikes his trademark charisma with layers of serious menace, creating a villain who can seemingly do anything at any given moment. In a movie where virtually every character has an aura of thirty-weight motor oil, he shines the darkest. (originally published at Amazon.com)