Watching Killer Joe would be bestowing director William Friedkin with the benefit of the doubt. Much of anyone’s opinion on the man would be based on films like The Exorcist or The French Connection; films that have remained in the ‘Greatest’ lists since their releases. However, since 1973, he’s directed some dozen, much more mediocre films, and depending on just how much you loved the aforementioned classics, Killer Joe probably doesn’t make the cut.
It’s your basic crime-gone-wrong caper, layered in a thick coat of shlock-style, a spatter of some horrifyingly dark humour, a sprinkle of a diluted set of thematic elements and based in the seemingly morally devoid Deep South. Backed by his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), and stepmother (Gina Gershon), hapless Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) hires ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to murder Smith’s mother, in the hopes of using her insurance payout as bail money for a mob debt. Things go awry when Chris’ younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), becomes sexually involved with ‘Killer’ Joe.
The problem, not surprisingly, is that it takes some considerable courage to actually empathise with any of these characters. Even McConaughey’s titular rogue lacks intrigue, despite some witty exchanges with the most dysfunctional family in America. Consequently, as the moral compass is so far skewed for the sake of comedy, none of what follows engages on an emotional level, above the fleeting moments when the darkly humorous tone actually lands. Particular credit should go to Haden Church and Temple who, despite being lumped with the burden of currying empathy, play their roles with natural flair.
The film lacks impact in spite of its insanely confronting presentation and once again, for the 13th time in 39 years you’ll be turning to your special edition Blu-Ray copy of The Exorcist and wondering just when the hell Friedkin will retire.
Yep Sorcerer, Cruising and To Live & Die in L.A. all mediocre.