Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon.
Written by: Tracy Letts (based on his play)
Running Time: 102 mins
Release date: 29th June 2012
In the 70s, director William Friedkin was at the top of his game. The man responsible for The French Connection and The Exorcist, he was up there with the likes of Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese. Then he lost his touch and while still making films, they never hit the heights of his past successes. Then in 2006, he made a little seen thriller called Bug, based on a play by writer Tracy Letts. It was a real shocker and put Friedkin back where he belong but was ignored and disappeared without a trace. Now he has taken another Lett’s play and this time, hopefully, the audience will come out for it because it is Friedkin at his best in years.
Chris is a young drug dealer who has been thrown out of his home by his mother and has to find sanctuary with his father, Ansel and his step-mother, Sharla. Chris is in trouble. He owes money to a local drug baron and his life is on the line. He has a scheme to make a lot of money quickly. Kill his own mother who has a life insurance policy and the money will go to Chris’s special sister, Dottie. The family won’t commit the crime but a renegade Dallas cop with a side business for contract murders and the nickname Killer Joe. Joe agrees but at a price. As the family haven’t enough money for his services, he agrees to kill the woman as long as Dottie is his collateral until the money arrives. Reluctantly, Chris says yes but the best laid plans can go badly wrong.
The immediate thing you notice about this film is the cinematography. Caleb Deschanel has done an amazing job. It’s bright, crisp colours do not tally with the tone of the piece and yet it works effectively. Also most of the film is shot in close-up, as if we are in the faces of these people. It makes for unsettling viewing which is exactly what this film is all about.
These are despicable people with absolutely no morals whatsoever. They are willing to have a member of their family killed to get money, they have hidden secrets from each other and yet we, the audience allow them into our lives for the running time and we don’t mind one bit. Thanks to Friedkin’s handling of the direction, Letts’ excellent screenplay and the performances of the cast, all at the top of their game.
Emile Hirsch, who seems to have had a chequered career so far, is nicely sleazy as Chris, even if he has respect and love for his sister (although one scene, he dreams of her in a very inappropriate way, making him even more of a sleazeball!) Thomas Haden Church could have easily let his character just be dumb but he gives us something more as the less-than-intelligent father, an air of vulnerability. Juno Temple (daughter to director Julian Temple) is nicely naive as the simple yet only likeable character in the film, Dottie, who doesn’t fully understand what is going on yet knows everything. I do have to say it’s nice to see Gina Gershen back in a main character role. The star of the excellent Bound, she didn’t capitalise on that but here she certainly does. As the dishonest Sharla, she is superb and I hope that people will notice her for future projects.
The film, however, belongs to Matthew McConaughey. As the title character, this is by far his best performance yet. Quietly sinister, she is polite and calming and yet underneath he is a vicious, psychopathic monster. He commands the screen whenever he is on and is utterly unsettling throughout. It will be hard to see him being able to top this but I hope he does because he has finally shown his worth as an actor. He has also created a truly great screen monster.
Firmly rooted in its stage origins with most of the action taking place in the trailer, as a piece of cinema, it is unflinchingly brutal. You spend your time learning about these characters that when the violence does arrive, it is both shocking and repulsive and yet it fits well with the rest of what has happened. It sets out to make you feel uncomfortable and it works.
I came away utterly exhausted. It is breath-taking cinema and surprisingly funny in places too. Friedkin deserves a hit with this and if you want strong, hard-hitting drama then I highly recommended. One piece of advice though, once you have seen it, you may never look at fried chicken in the same way again!