Oh, no! The dreaded cut to black strikes again!
Matthew McConaughey's strong 2012 continues with his dark, comic turn as the title character. Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas police detective who occasionally is hired to murder people on the side. How he is not found out yet by his police brotherhood is a mystery to myself and the rest of the audience. But, I digress.
When white-trash hillbilly Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is $10,000 in debt to local loan shark Digger Soames, (Marc Macaulay) Chris and his even more white-trash father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) decide to hire Killer Joe to murder Ansel's ex-wife and Chris' mother Adele. Chris has been informed that Adele's life insurance policy is worth $50,000. After Killer Joe's fee is taken, Chris and Ansel decide they can use the rest of the money.
Problems arise when Killer Joe goes over his details to Chris and Ansel. Killer Joe states that his fee is to be paid up front. Realizing that Chris and Ansel do not have that amount of money, Killer Joe decides to provide them with a different offer: Chris' sister Dottie (Juno Temple) will be held as a "retainer" until the life insurance is paid out and Killer Joe is paid for his services.
As typical with this type of story, the plan for Chris does not go off as expected. Chris begins to doubt whether killing Adele is a good plan while Killer Joe and Dottie begin a relationship, much to the chagrin of Chris. Soon, the walls for Chris begin to close in and danger lurks for Dottie along with Ansel and his current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon).
This is a hard movie to like, but also a hard one not to ignore. Director William Friedkin re-teams with writer Tracy Letts to tell a darkly comic and very violent tale that satirizes the white-trash culture. As with their previous pairing, Bug, this film gives the feeling of a play. Not as restricted as Bug, this film opens the landscape and spends a good amount of time in the daylight. Being in the daylight, though, makes this film no less dark.
Some of the acting in this film, especially from Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church came off very wooden to me. I was especially disappointed with Thomas Haden Church's performance as Ansel. Ansel is played for laughs by being your typical, dumb hillbilly. Most of Thomas Haden Church's scenes come off as wooden and stiff. Emile Hirsch comes off worse, as he is basically the main character and we have to sit through his stiff acting. Neither one is absolutely terrible, but they are overshadowed by two really well-done performances.
Gina Gershon's Sharla is a very unlikable character. She is cheating on Ansel and really seems to have no care for anyone in the film. Gina Gershon plays this character as nasty as she is written, yet when the ending comes, her performance really shines. Which brings us to Matthew McConaughey. This might be Matthew McConaughey's finest performance yet. Killer Joe is a very cool customer, and throughout the whole film has the entire Smith family in the palm of his hand. Yet, you are able to see cracks in his foundation when his frustrations boil over.
The writing of the film is solid, yet maybe makes too much fun of the white-trash culture. The Smith family appears like they literally walked off the Jerry Springer show. This is shown by guzzling nothing but Budweiser, watching monster trucks on television and living in a trailer with a large dog outside. This is obviously taking all the cliches of white-trash and throwing them into one movie.
One final thing, the last act of this film is some of the finest work of 2012. Once all the issues are brought up and its time to resolve the plot, we are restricted to one location for the remainder of the film. We watch as Killer Joe and his frustrations with the Smith family finally reach a boiling point. All the remaining characters meet in one location and the entire plot attempts to resolve. Unfortunately, we cut to black! Ah, I know it's a stylistic choice, but the last 30 seconds of the film didn't make sense to me and then the film ended. Not the worst ending ever, just leaves more to be desired.
A solid film with two great performances by Matthew McConaughey and Gina Gershon anchor this dark and violent film.