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Killer Joe (AF)


Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church

Director: William Friedkin

Note the ’18’ certificate. Friedkin believes his brave, brutal and deeply black comedy thriller definitely deserves the rating and is happy with it. He’s right. Some of its violence is nasty enough to be Tarantino. But in context, while disturbing, the violence is justified if uncomfortable and advances the powerful narrative.

Fortunately Friedkin is not only a far superior filmmaker who creates his movies from strong scripts rather than referring to old films and, moreover, he has Tracy Letts, adapting his own stage play and opening it up very effectively indeed, a much better screenwriter.

“There’s a thin line between good and evil”, says Friedkin, “And there is the possibility of evil in all of us”. Which he compellingly demonstrates here, racking up suspense, shock and sharp characterisations and surprising but very well integrated black humour when dimwitted Texas layabout Hirsch, hounded by hoods out to collect the gambling debts he owes, decides, along with his spaced out father (Haden Church, quite brilliant) to arrange for the murder of his mother in order to collect her $50,000 life insurance.

Hirsch and his father are dim but not dim enough to commit murder themselves. Instead they do a deal with deceptively laid-back Dallas policeman McConaughey who operates a profitable business as a killer-for-hire.. But then everything goes pear-shaped, culminating in a violent but justifiable after what has preceded it, climax…

Friedkin is a superb storyteller. His storytelling pace is first rate and there are no dull patches. He has a strong screenplay and makes the most of it and while the casting and, even more potently, the performances he draws from his eclectic but excellent actors could not be better or more to the point.

McConnaughey’s brilliant portrait of the venal but scarily psychopathic cop is his finest to date. He’s quietly spoken and deceptively laid back most of the time, so when he finally does explode, the impact is blood-chilling. (Chances are that after seeing this film, you will never touch fried chicken again). His romance with slow witted Temple (also excellent) is both credible and terrible. Hirsch, too, has never been better and the same goes for Gershon as Haden Church’s sluttish wife.

Caleb Deschanel’s appropriately and atmospheric colour-drained digital cinematography perfectly brings to life the New Orleans locations that stand in effectively for the convincingly seedy Dallas, Texas settings.

It’s undoubtedly a tough film and, at times, tough to take too. That said, Friedkin has made another major movie.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment-One UK. Colour by deluxe.
102 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 24 Jun 2012