DVD Review: Killer Joe
Meanwhile, in a small Texas trailer park, where there are NO morals...
Chris (Emile Hirsch) owes a drug lord a lot of money. He decides to hire "Killer" Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a police detective who moonlights as a hitman, to kill his mother so he can collect on her $50,000 life insurance policy. Unfortunately, Chris cannot pay Joe's fee up front, so Joe agrees to take a retainer, in the form of Chris' mentally challenged sister Dottie (Juno Temple).
Sometimes I loathe my background in theatre, because when I watch films like Killer Joe, clearly based on a stage play, I can sometimes feel the original source material coming through in a way that distracts from the film as its own separate work. It also doesn't help that the original playwright (Tracy Letts) didn't, at first, take into account his new medium when writing the screenplay. So the film immediately starts off with dialogue that feels pointless and repetitive as Chris, his father (Thomas Haden Church) and step-mother (Gina Gershon) are having a screaming match in the tiny living room of the family's trailer. Thankfully, the more important parts of the film overcome this obstacle, but there are moments sprinkled throughout that don't necessarily fit.
The film also relies too much on shock value to entertain. The basic premise already adds an intense uncomfortable feeling, lending the film an NC-17 rating, but within the first minute, a very pantsless Gina Gershon opens the door of her trailer, leaving her lady bits out for all to see. She quickly dismisses her step-son's disgust of "Why aren't you wearing pants?" with an inexplicable "I didn't know it was you." So apparently she just opens doors pantsless all the time without looking to see who's knocking first. It's moments like this that seem to be interjected to get an audible gasp out of the audience without adding to the story or characters. It's evident this family is white trash with no sense of social conduct, as it all comes out pretty quickly in the plot. Shocking moments such as this simply cheapen the film, assuming the audience is too stupid to understand how disgusting these people really are, so it throws it in our face...almost literally.
However, there is a saving grace: the performances. While Hirsch, Church and Gershon effortlessly pull off the main components of the selfish trailer trash family, it's Temple's developmentally stunted, yet Lolita-like, performance that gives any depth to this clan of degenerates. But none of them quite match up to McConaughey's charismatic, sexy, smart, sleazy and terrifying killer. When he oozes his Texas charm, it goes all the way to eleven, and it's possible to look away, despite some very despicable acts. His career seems to have taken a turn for the better since last year's The Lincoln Lawyer and with more roles like "Killer Joe," audiences may be able to someday forgive the dark days of his rom-com streak.
The story is darkly intriguing and the characters are fun to watch with a trainwreck fascination, aided by good-to-fantastic performances. If the dialogue had been tweaked to allow the film to expand beyond the stage, nixing the useless shock value, Killer Joe may have appealed to a bigger audience.