It’s hard to know where to start with William Friedkin. His career as a director has seen him ping around all over the place in terms of quality, the high point being when he followed 1971’s The French Connection with his most lauded film, The Exorcist in 1973. Between then and now he’s not really lived up to the hype that surrounded him following these two now classic films. In August, Friedkin will be 77 years old. And somehow, in this latter stage of his career, he has adapted a 1993 play by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts called Killer Joe into one of the most individual filmgoing experiences of the year.

There are many elements that enable Friedkin’s Killer Joe to work so well. Most importantly, the casting is bang on save for Emile Hirsch who was completely wrong in the role of perhaps the film’s dumbest idiot, Chris. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t look the part of a down-and-out redneck, or perhaps his acting style wasn’t adaptable enough to be able to ground the character. Thankfully though, the rest of the troupe more than make up for his slight miscasting.

Matthew McConaughey is a total powerhouse in this movie. Let it be known. In what until the final third can almost be described as a supporting role, his charming menace is something to behold as ‘Joe’ goes about his business, taking advantage of an entire family‘s lack of intellect and defencelessness. He preys upon their many weaknesses and exposes them to one another, all the while feeding his own twisted desires. It is a truly sinister performance that may well attract awards chatter should any voting body choose to recognise a film so depraved in its overall narrative, and eventually in its relentless, unflinching third act.

McConaughey aside, it’s worth heaping praise upon an outstanding supporting cast. Academy Award nominee Thomas Haden Church is perfectly believable as the bumbling moron father, Ansel, while Gina Gershon outperforms anything she’s ever done as his equally as trailer-trash wife, Sharla. It’s Juno Temple though, as the ‘virginal retainer’ Dottie, who takes this film to a whole other level. In fact, at this point in the year considering the performances on offer so far, it would be hard not to consider her as a serious contender for Supporting Actress nominations across the board. And with a turn in The Dark Knight Rises still on her near horizon, 2012 seems to be somewhat of a breakout year for Temple who can forget that she ever appeared in films like Wild Child and St Trinians 1 and 2.

It is truly refreshing to see all of these fascinating performances come together. Not just because it’s a finely directed film, but because it pays so much respect to the source material and the way it was intended to be performed. From the word go, it feels like a play, but totally succeeds as a feature film. No easy feat for a director, but supported by the all-important fact that the film was written for the screen by Letts himself

The plot is straightforward enough. Hell, it would have to be considering the brainless hick characters who are responsible for executing it. After getting into debt with some local drug dealers, Chris (Hirsch) faces repayment or death, and approaches his remarried father, Ansel (Church), with the ‘ingenious’ plan to hire a hitman (McConaughey) to kill his mother in the hope of cashing in on her $50,000 life insurance policy for which his younger sister Dottie (Temple) is the beneficiary. Something so stupid though, was never going to be so simple. A few twists and a few backstabbings later, after a little black dress and fried chicken dinner, Killer Joe reveals himself to be so much more than just a hired gun. A hired gun is just in it for the money after all.

A brutal and often blackly comic testament to what can be achieved if you take risks as a filmmaker, it managed to avoid any cuts, gleefully accepting it’s NC-17 rating in the States which subsequently killed off any chance of success at the box office. The results are impressively visceral, which if Friedkin were 40 years younger would have the likes of the Tarantino and the Coens shaking in their boots.


Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith

A bi-product of both the USA and the UK, Matthew has been a film-obsessive since the summer of 1993. He claims that in 2009, he saw a total of 109 films at the cinema. Since 2009, he has been writing for NME film critic Owen Nicholls, and after exploring the intricacies of film analysis, began a BA Hons in Film and Moving Image Production in 2011 at the ripe old age of 25. His favourite film is The Big Lebowski, and his favourite director is Alexander Payne.