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Catching Up on 2012: Killer Joe (Unrated)

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting when I sat down to watch William Friedkin’s latest film, Killer Joe.  A violent crime caper, I guess.  And that is indeed what I got, though the film is far more twisted and disturbed than I had ever expected.  Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on your mileage, I guess!

When we first meet the trailer-park-dwelling Chris (Emile Hirsch) and his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), they are plotting the death of Chris’ mother, Ansel’s ex-wife, so they can claim the money from her life-insurance policy.  Chris has heard of a guy, Joe (Matthew McConaughey) — a policeman and also contract-killer — who he thinks they can hire to do the deed.  Chris and Ansel think they can pay Joe with a portion of the insurance money, but Joe demands payment in advance.  Since Chris and Ansel are broke, they obviously can’t pay, so Joe suggests an alternative: let him take Chris’ young sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) as a “retainer.”  Chris and Joe agree, leading to what I thought (wrongly) would be the most disturbing scene in the movie: Joe’s “date” with young Dottie (whose age isn’t specified but who is certainly depicted as a young, innocent girl) that ends up in their having sex.  What follows is a series of double-crosses winding up in a tense confrontation between Joe and Chris, Ansel, and Ansel’s new wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) in their trailer-park home, a scene even more horrifying than Joe’s date/seduction of Dottie.

There is much about Killer Joe that is impressive.  The cast is spectacular, each member of the ensemble turning in a fantastic performance.  Matthew McConaughey is the stand-out as the titular Killer Joe.  Mr. McConaughey is absolutely terrific, a true revelation in the role, presenting us with a character who is a stone-cold killer.  In many ways, Joe is completely inhuman, without any seeming semblance of heart or humanity.  He sees what he wants and he takes it, no remorse and no regret.  And yet, Dottie seems to spark a genuine emotion in him.  However repugnant Joe’s advances towards the much-younger Dottie might be (and they are mighty repugnant), one senses that Joe wants to attach himself to Dottie not just because he has lust for a young pretty girl, but because he feels a real connection with her.  That perhaps makes Joe an even more twisted character, but it also makes him a more interesting one.

Emile Hirsch is great as the troubled Chris, but it’s Thomas Haden Church as his father, the beaten-down Ansel, who really impresses.  Mr. Church brings to Ansel a woeful sense of powerful hopelessness, that of a dim … [continued]