EIFF 2012: Killer Joe Review

★★★★

What better way to open the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival than with iconic director William Friedkin’s lastest feature, Killer Joe? Friedkin has arguably never made a bad film (let’s just pretend Cruising never happened) and the seventy-six year old proves that he is still at the top of his game with his latest opus.

This pulpy Texan-noir follows the financially struggle, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) who plots to have his mother murdered, in a harebrained scheme to collect $50,000 insurance money. After confessing the plan to his father (Thomas Haden Church), sister (Juno Temple) and step-mother (Gina Gershon), the family seek out the services of lawman-meets-hired killer, Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey).

Friedkin manages to capture the nerve shredding intensity (similar to that of his previous film, Bug) through his bold, atmospheric direction. From the onset, Friedkin hits us with the ominous sound of Joe’s carefully timed lighter clicks, followed by shots of a rain-drenched, derelict trailer park and prescient lighting strikes. This gives us an early impression of the tense and brutal tale that is about to unfold. Friedkin does not hold back when it comes to depicting raw portrayals of violence and dark characters – possibly a device that may leave some viewers feeling somewhat alienated.

Fortunately, between these moments of intensity, Tracy Letts’ screenplay presents us with several wonderful moments of darkly comic humour. These perfectly executed moments of deadpan humour and awkward fun provides light relief from the Killer Joe’s dark subject matter, proving to be an unforgettable combination. Letts’ screenplay may begin with a simple premise, but Killer Joe soon proves to be a highly original and often unexpected and frenzied ride. This is perfectly summed up in the films’ outrageous, near-genius conclusion which proves to be both shocking and riotously humorous.

It is particularly nice to see that Matthew McConaughey has escaped from the world of romantic comedies and is once again proving what a wonderful actor he is. His underplayed portrayal of the sardonically smooth, Joe Cooper, is a career best and one of the sheer delights of Friedkin’s film. Gina Gershon proves to be on fine form as Chris’ trashy, no-nonsense step-mother bringing a convincing slice of Southern gumption to the role. Thomas Haden Church’s deadpan comic skills also prove to be a highlight with the star excelling as the bumbling, beer-guzzling patriarch. Younger actors Juno Temple and Emile Hirsch are equally well cast with the pair both able to shine alongside the likes of McConaughey and Gershon.

Killer Joe is a magnificent example of modern-noir, with Friedkin proving to still be one of the most exciting figures in modern cinema. The director’s latest feature proves to be one of the most energetic, brutal, tense and darkly comic pictures of the year, featuring an unforgettable career best performance from Matthew McConaughey.

Andrew McArthur

Rating: 18 (UK)
UK Release Date: 29th June 2012 (Edinburgh Film Festival 20th June 2012)
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church , Juno Temple


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About Andrew McArthur

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Obsessed with all things film, TV and pop music. Worshiper of John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, James Franco, and awful Madonna films. You can find me on Twitter at @AndrewSMcArthur

  • MovieGeek Blog

    I am definitely not so enthusiastic about this one.
    In fact I’m afraid I really hated Killer Joe.
    I found myself watching it and wondering “Should we really laugh at what’s essentially rape, ignorance in America and raw violence?”
    The plot pulls in too many directions, the styles switches from real and raw to cartoony and over-the-top almost slapstick and the story is pretty much non existent.
    In the end the message was loud and clear, thanks to a not too subtle scene with the KFC leg, (which had most of the audience I was with laughing with tears)… but left me quite unmoved.
    Clearly I am in the minority here, but to be honest I happy to be in that category.
    One to forget… Unfortunately it won’t be that easy, but that’s not a compliment.
    (my full review http://wp.me/p19wJ2-BU )