The first thing we see in Killer Joe is Gina Gershon naked from the waist down, and that accurately sets the tone for everything that follows. Director William Friedkin has made his movie full frontal in every sense of the word.
The plot is simple enough, but very tight. Chris [Emile Hirsch] owes six thousand dollars to a man who will kill him if he doesn’t pay up, so he enlists the help of his father [Thomas Haden Church] and stepmother [Gershon] to kill his birth mother for her life insurance policy. They hire Joe Cooper [Matthew McConaughey] to do the job, and Chris allows him to take his sister Dottie [Juno Temple] as a ‘retainer’. The usual complications ensue.
Every actor in this film is incredible. McConaughey in particular has encapsulated a dangerous stillness in Joe that will change the way you see him as an actor. Gershon manages to portray an old school noir Femme Fatale with realism and also sympathetically, and Temple is absolutely outstanding in what surely will be a breakout role for her. There are no loose cogs anywhere in this movie, you get the feeling that Friedkin has taken care of everything, and he has made sure his actors have too.
In fact, as long as you don’t like women, there isn’t much wrong with Killer Joe at all. As I said, it opens with Gina Gershon naked from the waist down, and it pretty much continues that way. Women and men are on equal footing in this film when it comes to screen time and character development, but there are a few moments however, which are hard to forgive. Even the original conceit, that Dottie is a thing which can be given away, is offensive. The climactic scene of this film involves an act that is so demeaning, it’s hard to believe it was written. Perhaps it worked well in the original play, and indeed, it is tonally in keeping with the rest of the movie, but it is also far too gratuitous, fetishising Gershon’s shame to an unforgiveable extent.
In Killer Joe, Friedkin has made an incredibly well made, well acted B movie. At times it is so close to being a perfect Noir, and then it veers right back into Grindhouse. For every wonderful, dialogue driven scene, there is a vulgarity that keeps forcing itself to the fore. If you like your violent scenes to go on for several minutes longer than necessary, you will love it. In fact, I would recommend it just to showcase the immense talent of its cast. Just don’t be surprised if you have to turn away from the screen a lot. [Watch the trailer]