Killer Joe – not for the faint hearted (a film review)

I thought it would be nice to take what’s left of my family – wife and son currently – to the cinema. I had heard good things, though not much detail, about Killer Joe so I took a gamble. Well, if I was lookng for nice this was completely the wrong place. Killer Joe is sexually explicit and explicitly viloent but it is not, in any way, nice. It also may be the best film I have seen all year, and probably all last year as well. It is not, however, a family film.

My son, who is over eighteen, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife, not so much. But if you like stories about poor, stupid, white trash, murder plots and heartless, psycho killers-for-hire then this is definitely one for you. If you like a superb script – not so common in Hollywood these days – peerless ensemble acting, a return to form by a former heavyweight director – Oscar winner William Friedkin whose previous highlights include The Exorcist and The French Connection – and a surprise star turn, then, yet again, this is the one for you.

Killer Joe is a film that refuses to pull any puches, literally or metaphorically. The opening shot features a close up of Gena Gershon’s bush and the film simply gets more hard-core from there. When Emile Hirsh’s character takes a beating, you really fear for his health. You know it’s only a movie but you think the bad guys are just giving it a bit much. And sometimes you might hope that the camera will cut away from the violence – actual and sexual – but it never does. It confronts all of the pain and fear of the cast and forces you do do likewise. I promise – you will never look on KFC the same. I will certainly never eat there again, though that’s no harship as it is probably twenty years since I last darkened the good Colonel’s door, but I will have to think twice about chicken legs of any sort, KFC’d or not.

The huge surprise has to be the performance of Matthew McConaughey. Of late he has been seen in too many take-the-money-and-run roles in the likes of Sahara, Failure to Launch and The Wedding Planner. One tended to forget just how potent he had been when matched with a decent director (the wonderful John Sayles) and a part he could get his teeth into in Lone Star (1996). Based on his latest performance I will definitely be checking out The Lincoln Lawyer on DVD as I heard good thigs about it and I love Michael Connolly’s novel.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences would need to be brave to give this film prizes and its also early in the year for such speculation but if I had a vote I’d be giving it to Friedkin – director – McConaughey – actor – Gina Gershon – best supporting actress- Thomas Hayden Church – best poor white trash asshole in a supporting role – Tracy Letts – script –  best make-up (Gina Gershon in the climactic final scene) – best one-liner “your make-up is smudged” – and, of course, Killer Joe – best gross out film of the year.

I really feel bad about leaving Juno Temple and Emile Hirsh out of my Award nominations as in just about any other movie their perfomances would warrant an Oscar nod. But the absolute first-rank quality of their co- performers means someone had to miss out. But they’re young, there’ll be other chances for them – plenty if these performances are anything to go by.

For me, Killer Joe is one of the best and bravest films I have seen, ever. I may be a sick puppy but I cannot praise it highly enough. Just don’t take Granny.


About Bob Neilson

Bob Neilson lives in Dublin with his wife, two daughters, son, two dogs, one cat and a growing feeling of claustrophobia. In partnership with his wife he runs a successful retail business in Dublin city. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and he has had two plays performed on RTE and one on Anna Livia FM. He also presented a radio show on Anna Livia for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as several comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland.
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2 Responses to Killer Joe – not for the faint hearted (a film review)

  1. I thought Juno Temple was excellent. The best performance IMO although THC is very watchable.

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