When White Trash Go Wrong. More Than Usual//Killer Joe Review

He may look cool and charismatic but he redefines what it means to be a bastard. And the possible uses for fried chicken. He’s like the Clint Eastwood from hell.

Killer Joe, William Friedkin’s dark, seedy tale of a white trash family torn apart by greed, is a difficult film to like. It’s a difficult film to even enjoy. It’s a difficult film to even watch at times. But, like all the most difficult things in life, it’s strangely compelling in spite of being a resolutely unpleasant film, filled with unpleasant people doing unpleasant things, all with a sprinkling of dark humour. Friedkin clearly delights in their dismay.

At the center off all this is an unfamiliar figure, at least in a role as twisted and dark as this. Yes, Matthew McConaughey is certainly a long way from the beaches and waves where he made his name. But here, as the titular detective/gun for hire, he seems ready to shake off the cliches and typecasting that surround him and embrace genuine critical credibility. Perhaps aware that, with middle age fast approaching, soon his looks will no longer be able to sustain him, this is yet another in a series of moves to distance himself from his beach-god image and move into new territory, as was seen with last year’s The Lincoln Lawyer.

This, however, is a step further. Two steps even. A hop,skip and jump straight into a role that reimagines him entirely, turning what once was casual, almost smug, sex appeal into pure, unrestrained sleaze; where once there was a lazy charm in his Texan drawl there now is just latent menace; his cocksure swagger transferred from beaches to back-alleys and trailer parks, morphing into a sadistic prowl as he slowly dominates and destroys the family foolish enough to hire. He immerses himself in a character whose depravity has echoes of Harvey Keitel’s perma-nude ‘cop’ in Bad Lieutenant. Needless to say he’s the show-stopper here, the star turn that elevates what could have been mindless sadism and brutality into morbid fascination.

They make Jersey Shore seem like intelligentsia. And the beards…

Hired by lowlife Chris, played by Emile Hirsch, to dispatch his estranged mother for her life insurance, Joe takes his sister Dottie(Juno Temple) as a ‘retainer’ until he can be paid for his shadowy services. From there he proceeds to squirm his way into their family life, taking up near permanent residence within their trailer.Once inside he is able to exploit the sheer stupidity of the family, exemplified by the neanderthal like father Ansel, played with a dopey, wide-eyed comedic touch by Thomas Haden Church.

And trust me this is one very slow family, from failure-by-habit Chris to the just not all there Dottie(whom it at times seems to hint at genuine issues), the family is easy prey for the slimy assassin, slyly manipulating the family against Chris and leveraging himself into a position where Dottie will be his. Something Chris is not at all happy with. True to form the film seems to imply a deeper, darker motivation than merely looking out for his sibling, a different form of brotherly love is hinted at throughout, just one example of the rampantly sexual nature of Friedkin’s piece. Right from the off it is no holds barred sexually, often needlessly so. From crotch-tacular door openings to saucy sleep-walking to unspeakable acts involving chicken, the whole film is seedily voyeuristic, to an uncomfortable degree. The viewer feels as morally reprehensible and perverse as any character in the film.

But this approach is virtually universal to the film, at my viewing someone wondered what could possibly have possessed Gina Gershon, who plays Chris’ step-mother, to take on the role, such is the abuse and degradation she has to go through. That proceedings pan out with a hint of pitch-black humour leaves it somewhat difficult to decide what to make of everything. Throughout the tone often seems so conflicting with events on screen and the characters, so distinctly detestable yet amusing in their slovenliness and dysfunction, are so difficult to root for, that it begins to seem as if Friedkin is almost encouraging the viewer to indulge in his dark glee. It’s a credit to the performances and Friedkin’s direction that by the end you almost do, nonetheless you leave somewhat stunned and perturbed by what you’ve just witnessed. You’re not sure if you like it, but you don’t mind that it’s there, no matter how demented it seems.



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