Movie review: Killer Joe

From the August 23, 2012 edition

“Killer Joe” is as difficult to categorize at it will be for some to watch.

You may see the NC-17-rated film referred to as a “dark comedy,” which is more than a little misleading. It’s more of a morality tale (or total-lack-of-morality tale) best described as a sort of “redneck noir.”

Director William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) takes a twisted script from a Tracy Letts stage play and puts it on a slow boil. The end result is sometimes funny, sometimes squirm-inducing. But that’s sometimes a sign of good, challenging filmmaking.

A young Texan (Emile Hirsch) looking to settle a drug debt hatches a plan to have his mother murdered so his sister (Juno Temple) will get a sizable life insurance claim.

He’s gotten a recommendation for Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a police detective who moonlights as a hitman. It’s a foolproof plan … until it, of course, is not.

Friedkin finds pitch-black humor early before things go really, really wrong. The cast — also featuring Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon — is superb, top to bottom.

McConaughey is the revelation, though. His Joe is a cold killer akin to Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” but underneath lies an even deeper sadism. Be warned: There are scenes of brutality that are quite hard to stomach here — especially for fans of McConaughey the heartthrob.

It’s a film that will be loved and hated. I wasn’t firmly in either camp, but I won’t soon forget it.