Screens

Movie review: Killer Joe

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Fans of ultra-violence, twisted sexuality and hiccups of creep show humor should see Killer Joe during its initial theatrical run, so you can tell your friends at viewing parties and midnight screenings in years to come how mainstream audiences reacted to the assault.

I enjoyed the film: the propulsive flow; the depraved, lurid tone; the unapologetic wallowing in exploitative nudity (mostly female) and confrontations that build to bloody thwacks, the ugly relationships and the overwhelmingly bad attitude. The film’s money shot, a mesmerizingly repellent scene involving vengeance and a fried chicken leg (I think it was fried — it could have been broasted), will make you squirm and squirm again.

Most of all I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as “Killer” Joe Cooper, a Texas police detective who moonlights as a hit man. Killler Joe is controlled, like a rattler preparing to strike, and scary cool, until he lets all the scariness loose. He presents himself as a professional and his simmering, businesslike approach to his work makes him the perfect counterpoint to the family of boobs that hire him.

Sputtering, explosive drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) wants Killer Joe to murder his mother so his sister Dottie (Juno Temple), who behaves as if she was struck by a log five minutes ago and is just now coming back around, can collect the insurance money. Chris will use his share to pay off his threatening debtors. Also in on the scheme is Chris’ father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), a man who resembles a basset hound in facial features and brainpower, and Ansel’s current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), whose sultriness is somehow heightened by her perma-sneer.

Legendary director William Friedkin’s treatment of Tracy Letts’ play is sturdy in its indulgence; from the way he presents his scenes it appears he’s really into the leering depravity. Good for him: the film benefits from the lack of a moral compass. Killer Joe is no masterpiece, but the balance between the family’s dizzy nature and Joe’s steely composure, coupled with McConaughey’s fine performance, add up to a nasty treat. After the movie you can discuss the ambivalent ending over a family-size bucket of fried chicken. Save me a leg.

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