Friday 20 July 2012
(William Friedkin, 2011) Matthew McConaughey is astonishing in Killer Joe. In the title role, as Detective Joe Cooper, a cop with a sideline in paid assassination who gets mixed up with a damaged White trash family somewhere in Texas, he displays the sort of magnetic cold-eyed charm which, in this sort of pulp, always means that a character is holding down some sort of inner violence. And so it proves. McConaughey twists the courtly old-fashioned Southern politeness which is a big part of his persona until it is a disturbing, off key element of his character; this man is too polite, too precise in his language for the environment he inhabits. When he reveals the other side of his nature later on, it is not remotely surprising. Rather it is oddly satisfying, firstly to see McConaughey live up to all that promise as an actor. And secondly to see a film pay off and deliver after lots of tension. Based on a Tracy Letts play - the stage bound source material is still evident in the few characters and locations, and more particularly in the way the final act all occurs in a single setting, in one long unbroken scene - and adapted for the screen by the playwright, Killer Joe is the blackest comedy imaginable, a post-Tarantino slice of Southern trailer-park noir, based around a handful of great performances and Friedkins solid, if somewhat anonymous direction. McConaughey might be the single-most enthralling element, but he is given strong backing by Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and (especially) Juno Temple as Dottie, the oddball innocent/savant of a daughter Joe takes a liking to. Letts' characterisation is bold in its simplicity, and his people talk in spellbinding little riffs and exchanges, many of which are drily hilarious. Friedkin ensures it is splendidly atmospheric - the art direction for the trailer in which so much action occurs is just about perfect - and tense from the moment Joe enters the picture and the plot is set in motion, but it is perhaps guilty of trying too hard to be weird, struggling for a Lynchian blend of quirk, sleaze, humour and violence which is particularly difficult to achieve. If Killer Joe never quite makes it, it is at least nasty and generally enthralling. The whole thing rises to a quite brilliant final scene of horrific, hilarious violence, and what is quite frankly the best use of a piece of fried chicken I've ever seen in a movie.