chavel’s review published on Letterboxd:
This NC-17 flick put me in a wicked, dark mood change. Killer Joe is a hired hitman tale set in the outreaches of the Dallas district, the grubbiness and depravity is established in just a matter of shots. With this film, we are absorbed into a world of disgraceful, repugnant trailer trash people of extreme desperation. The film is the work of the controversial William Friedkin, an Oscar winner in 1971 for “The French Connection” and for the landmark horror masterpiece “The Exorcist” in 1973. His work as a director has seen some valleys, but with age and wisdom he had only gotten stronger again. He teamed with playwright Tracy Letts for “Bug” (2007) and now he teams with him again for this collaboration. The words in the script are gutter poetry, a mash of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Bukowski, or Quentin Tarantino and Tennessee Williams.
Father and son plan to have their stepmom murdered for the insurance policy money. This big plan is brought up by 22-year old Chris (Emile Hirsch), an incompetent drug dealer who owes a debt to a drug lord. Dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) has never seen $1,000 in his life, and can’t bail his son out. Dallas Police Sheriff Joe (Matthew McConaughey, in what was his third great 2012 performance along with “Magic Mike” and “Bernie”) is a merciless contract killer who demands upfront payment. With no front fee in sight, he agrees to take Chris’ introverted sister as a “retainer.”
Juno Temple, a young actress that I admittedly loathe elsewhere (in 2010, at the theaters I walked out of "Dirty Girl" after eight minutes), is perfect for once in the part as the dimwit Dottie, who goes up for equity in Joe’s arms and doesn’t have the insight that she is being used. Gina Gershon, as stepmom Sharla, is willing to get her lipstick smeared and mascara runs on her face for this part, and a whole lot more. She is the trickiest character to decipher on screen, only because we do not really know her depths until her final scenes.
Visually, this is Friedkin at his most lurid. When there isn't anything “scandalous” on-screen, he can still manage in the simplest shots to convey sleaze and muckiness of which these characters inhabit. And after a century of movies where actors run for their lives and never run out of breath, Friedkin has found a way to fix the cliché.
You watch these people with nothing in their lives; they are the invisible spectrum of society who contribute nothing, because they are not needed. They are the people with no daily positive stimulation, nothing to reach for, stagnant with pitiful destination goals. Depravity is easy, moral desolation is permeate.
These are dumb people that think they’re smart and savvy (there's dark humor in that), although really they’re just in a deviant bubble. The most shocking sequence is a man forcing a woman to simulate fellatio on a fat drumstick, and if that’s a turn-off… you’d be all the more repulsed if I went on lavishly with the rest of the scene’s description.
Ruling the last quarter of the film is McConaughey with cruel, and cool, psychopathic control. McConaughey’s bravura mastery of dialogue, as well as physical imposition, is revelatory of his skills. Yet not to be overlooked is the remarkable Thomas Hayden Church of “Sideways,” who always has one good muster of malicious wisdom followed by clueless back-up plans. He is one very sad human being, ready to comply to violence only because he does not know to counter force with something thoughtful.
The movie drowned me in depression and depravity, in a way that “Bad Lieutenant” (1992) or “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) did the first time. Friedkin self-knowingly had narrowed his commercial prospects with Killer Joe. But the NC-17 freedom was reason to rejoice. This kind of dark social commentary and subversive material, the opportunity to get close up with the kind of venal and ghetto people you would fear to be standing next to in real life, is not something you would find in an entertainment geared for mass consumption. Only in Friedkin land, and with the NC-17 edict, can a movie like Killer Joe be found. This is an exclusive opportunity for your intelligent adult mind to get closer to people you are commonly removed from. from. This is an art film that raises consciousness of where violent desperation breeds.