Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Friedkin's Lewd 'Killer Joe' Lets Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch Play Around

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 15, 2011 at 3:02AM

William Friedkin's ability to translate stage plays to the big screen goes back to his 1967 Harold Pinter adaptation "The Birthday Party," but only his more recent efforts recognize the potential for matching theatricality with his dark sensibilities. "Bug," a 2007 adaptation of Tracy Letts' 1996 play, revolved around two increasingly troubled people losing their minds. Returning to Letts' depraved universe with an adaptation of his 1993 crime-tinged play "Killer Joe," Friedkin has crafted another enjoyable slice of frenzied pulp minimalism. The entire movie revolves around four characters, none of whom are particularly likable or morally adept. With an eye for gritty, shameless fun, Friedkin unleashes the play's guilty pleasure center.
0
TORONTO REVIEW | Friedkin's Lewd "Killer Joe" Lets Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch Play Around
William Friedkin's "Killer Joe." Liddell Entertainment.

William Friedkin's ability to translate stage plays to the big screen goes back to his 1967 Harold Pinter adaptation "The Birthday Party," but only his more recent efforts recognize the potential for matching theatricality with his dark sensibilities. "Bug," a 2007 adaptation of Tracy Letts' 1996 play, revolved around two increasingly troubled people losing their minds. Returning to Letts' depraved universe with an adaptation of his 1993 crime-tinged play "Killer Joe," Friedkin has crafted another enjoyable slice of frenzied pulp minimalism. The entire movie revolves around four characters, none of whom are particularly likable or morally adept. With an eye for gritty, shameless fun, Friedkin unleashes the play's guilty pleasure center.

The story is pure formula. Setting the stage for the southern-fried stereotypes that follow, "Killer Joe" opens in a trailer park, where druggie teen Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) wakes up his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and presents him with a twisted scheme: Hire the menacing hitman Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill Chris' mother -- also Ansel's ex-wife. Establishing the movie's off-kiler moral sensibilities, the walls have ears, but they don't judge: Ansel's current trashy spouse, Sharla (Gina Gerson), approves of the scheme -- and so does Chris' eerily disaffected sister Dottie (Juno Temple), who nearly died when their drug-addled mom tried to kill her.

The brash anti-heroes of "Killer Joe" cluelessly head toward a predictably grim fate, but Killer Joe's arrival on the scene raises the tension and instantly kicks up the maniacal energy on the screen. Joe waltzes into the narrative as if he knows he's the star. A smooth-talking detective willing to waive his advance in favor of a pre-arranged date with Dottie, he toys with his clients while keeping his movites eerily murky. Joe's a distinctly enjoyable combination of various badass formulas, a western vigilante with a barbaric preference for domination and no apparent empathy. His tactics grow increasingly bizarre, culminating with a memorable interrogation scene in which he forces a woman to fellate a piece of fried chicken. Friedkin holds nothing back, but it's Letts' rambunctious plotting that enables the director to chart a path to the wild climax.

Killer Joe's arrival instantly kicks up the maniacal energy on the screen.

Even as the outrageous material and hyper-pulpy script are made palatable by the theatrical nature of the screenplay, it's tightknit cast that makes "Killer Joe" click more than anything else, their dedicated to the ridiculous task at hand on constant display. Hirsch plays a wild-eyed backcountry cliché whose tough guy ambitions are frozen in place by McConaughey's cool-headed demeanor. Church's dumb gaze and equally brash delivery render him cartoon-like, but he clearly relishes the opportunity to find his extremes. As for the women: Gershon mainly serves as a prop in place for the gleefully degrading finale, but Temple continues her bold willingness to subvert expectations by accepting a role both uncomfortably lewd and oddly empowering by the end.

For much of the time, "Killer Joe" plays like a low rent crime saga from the Coen brothers template without the complex cinematic vision, and yet even then it maintains a certain grindhouse-caliber thrill factor. As of this writing, "Killer Joe" has been identified by Wikipedia as an "American comedy film," which is sort of like calling "Pulp Fiction" a farce. [Editor's note: The page has since been updated.] Amusingly devoted to the mad energy at its core, "Killer Joe" ends with an outright ludicrous barrage of developments, but considering everything that came before, the destination is both inevitable and welcome.

criticWIRE grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? "Killer Joe" is set for a U.S. theatrical release this Friday through Liddell Entertainment. Although it faces tough commercial propositions, the current interest in McConaughey's unconventional career path should help it maintain some visibility in the marketplace over the next several weeks.

A version of this review originally ran during the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

This article is related to: Reviews, Killer Joe






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More