Chris (Emile Hirsch) and his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) hire Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a cop who just happens to work as a contract killer, to get rid of Chris’s mother for her life insurance policy. Joe wants his fee in advance, however, but is willing to settle for a retainer in the form of Chris’s beautiful and naïve sister Dottie (Juno Temple).
The story of Killer Joe is clever and intricate; each character is willing to double cross the others but none of them are willing to take the consequences, until they meet a man who is so blood freezingly devoid of morals that they turn their backs on their own for fear of his wrath. Director William Friedkin has created a world without morals with a focus on the visual and the depths that people sink to.
As the titular character Matthew McConaughey is fantastic. Killer Joe is as far removed from the warm character he plays in Jeff Nichols’s Mud as it is possible to be, and it is through this performance that McConaughey reminds audiences of his strengths as an actor. Killer Joe is a man who is accustomed to using his power to get what he wants, and is not liable to take no for an answer. Killer Joe is like a coiled snake, he may look calm and collected, but he is poised and ready to strike at any moment. When Dottie tells him ‘Your eyes hurt’, the audience knows exactly what she means; there is something behind them that is unsettling and frightening.
Emile Hirsch’s accent is a little off, but his performance in Killer Joe may just be enough to allow audiences to forget about The Darkest Hour (oh, I just reminded you? Sorry!). Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon play the typical Texan deadbeats with no ambition in their lives, but they pull back on the verge of caricature, allowing their characters to be real and relatable, even if the audience may not exactly like them. Juno Temple has been solidly building a name for herself in recent years, but it is through her performance as naïve, but never pitiable, Dottie that she cemets her position as an actress to watch out for.
Killer Joe is wonderfully dark and feels a little like a pulp novel. Friedkin creates a bubble that the characters inhabit, filled with strip clubs, guns and murder, but with little room for scruples or kindness. In fact, Joe is actually the character that shows the most kindness; his gentle treatment of Dottie belies the cold façade that he shows to the rest of the world.
In all, the film is dark and tragic. It shines a spotlight on the lows that people fall while being well paced, beautifully shot and darkly funny. McConaughey gives a chilling performance and director Friedkin, who has been making films for over 40 years, finds a fresh new voice with Killer Joe.