Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Film Review: Killer Joe

Without doubt, Killer Joe proves one thing; at age 77, William Friedkin hasn’t lost his edge. Killer Joe is the twisted story of a ‘trailer trash’ family The Smiths, who have severe problems. It has to be said that The Smiths are possibly the most extreme family on film since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church, with just the right use of deadpan) is just about the only sane on the family.

There’s promiscuous stepmom Sharla (Gina Gershon), who spends the very first scene of the film completely nude, and gets sleazier from there. Daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) has the mind of a child and a strange sleepwalking condition. Then, there’s notorious son Chris (Emile Hirsch), who’s in trouble with drug dealers, and needs $50,000 quick. A quick scheme involving his mother’s life insurance soon comes to plan, and so Chris hires in Joe (Matthew McConaughey), police officer and part time hitman, to do the job.Image

It’s very difficult to sum up a film like Killer Joe, for I have no reference points to use. Quite simply, Killer Joe is unlike anything I have seen before. It bears some similarity to Friedkin’s previous film Bug, in its staging of sequences and claustrophobic settings. Even so, Bug was more paranoid and mentally violent, whereas Killer Joe is one of the most explicit films of the year.

I also can’t say whether that is a recommendation or not, because it’s hard to say what I feel about Killer Joe. I certainly thought it was well made and well acted, with some great cinematography and unpredictability, but I didn’t enjoy a second of it, and don’t know if I could stomach a second viewing.


Of the cast, McConaughey is the stand out. Once a joke, and star of an interminable number of lazy romcoms, here he gives one of the strangest and bravest performances by a major star in years. Put nicely, Joe is a despicable character, with very few morals and the tendency to beat numerous people around the face. McConaughey is a triumph, and were it not for the horror surrounding the role, he may have been a cert for an Oscar nomination. In the supporting cast, Hersch, who hasn’t been in a major film in a long time, is brilliantly sleazy as a terminal loser, while Temple is slightly irritating but intriguing as the strange daughter.Image

Your opinion of Killer Joe will be determined by how much filth and brutality you can be subjected to. Certainly, it is a disagreeable film, with misogyny and sexual politics being fairly blunt and unpleasant, and violence realistically nasty. Still, it is a well crafted film, with excellent acting and terrific dialogue. Just make sure you have a cold shower afterwards.

Grade: B

By Harry Ford


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