William Friedkin has long been one of Hollywood’s most controversial directors, but he is also one of the most celebrated. After the critical praise for The French Connection in 1971, Friedkin followed up with the megahit The Exorcist based on the William Peter Blatty novel. Although his career never reached those heights again, he continued to make intriguing and much debated films ranging from cult hit Sorcerer with Roy Scheider to Cruising with Al Pacino. He had a couple of great films in the 80s that failed to gain much acclaim, To Live and Die in L.A., Rampage and The Guardian, all of which I liked quite a bit. The 90s fared worse with the sports film Blue Chips and the thriller Jade, which legions of critics hate, but this critic has always loved (Friedkin himself claims this is one of his favorites of his own films). Since Jade his films have been few and far between with Hunted and Bug, both intriguing but ultimately failed films. Now Friedkin returns after 5 years with the thriller Killer Joe, which gained excellent reviews among critics this year.
Dumb as dirt Texan drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) finds himself owing a great deal of money to his criminal bosses. Not knowing any other way out of the situation, he takes the advice of a friend and hires a police detective that does hits on the side to kill his mother and collect the insurance. Detective Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is known as Killer Joe and he does not mess around. After discovering that Chris and his father Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church) do not actually have the money up front for the hit, he suggests taking Chris’ sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer. Dottie takes to Joe and the two become involved while Joe plots the murder. But when Chris starts to have second thoughts on the arrangement, he may be in for more than he bargained for when he tries to double cross Killer Joe.
Killer Joe is a strange movie full of stranger characters. Everybody is great here with Emile Hirsch and Thomas Hayden Church doing a great job as the total dumbass father and son team. Gina Gershon is equally trashy as Church’s new wife and Juno Temple is odd beyond belief as Dottie, a character that you are never quite sure of. You jump back and forth as to whether she fully understands the situations going on around her or that she just might be the smartest one of the entire group. But the star of this show is definitely McConaughey. His portrayal of Joe Cooper is a disturbing one to say the least. He is a cop with no moral compass whatsoever, yet he seems to have a genuine affection for Dottie. But McConaughey plays him with such a quiet menace; he is a true monster that everyone around him has underestimated. His performance is chilling. Killer Joe has some moments that are truly hard to watch and other moments that are downright hilarious, but the one thing is does accomplish very well is to bring Friedkin back to the forefront of edgy directors to watch.
The Blu-ray from VVS is a nice clean transfer with great detail and clarity, a natural color palette and a strong soundtrack. Details especially stand out here with the facial closeups. Killer Joe is not for everyone; it has some strong violence and disturbing scenes, but also has tons of dark humor and an interesting plot and story arc. If for nothing else, it is worth checking out for the great performance by McConaughey alone.
Available December 21, 2012 on Blu-ray and DVD.