William Friedkin's debauched potboiler is finger-lickin' good.
DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FRIEDKIN
If there’s no such thing as bad publicity, it stands to reason that there’s also no such thing as bad product placement. And yet execs at KFC may beg to differ, after one of their drumsticks takes centre stage in the astonishing climax to the carnival of depravity that is William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. Audience members who emerge, dazed, from the veteran director’s second collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts (after 2006′s Bug) are unlikely to look at the Colonel’s placid smile the same way ever again. So too Matthew McConaughey, who, here, as the titular cop-cum-contract-killer, harnesses his natural charisma and disarming drawl to give a performance of simmering, psychopathic intensity that is easily among the best of his career.
In terms of its perverse particulars, the remarkable finale is a true bolt from the blue. (Or from the black, given the pitch-dark register of Letts’ screenplay, which is nonetheless disconcertingly funny.) But as the comeuppance-serving culmination of an amoral, Coen brothers–esque, horrible scheme gone horribly wrong, the scene itself is entirely inevitable.
From the moment Emile Hirsch’s hapless, debt-ridden, drug-dealing redneck proposes a hit on his own mother to collect a handsome insurance payout, it’s basically clear where Killer Joe is headed. But if Letts’ narrative is standard-issue noir, the debauched details and cutting dialogue are consistent sources of fiendish, lurid delight. Ditto the top notch performances of Thomas Haden Church (as Hirsch’s profoundly dimwitted dad and co-conspirator), Gina Gershon (fearless as Hirsch’s sordid, hirsute stepmom, also in on the plot), and Juno Temple (as Hirsch’s virginal, odd-duck teen sister, to whom the brilliant McConaughey takes a thoroughly unwholesome shine).
Simultaneously delicious and regrettable, Killer Joe is perhaps 2012′s guiltiest pleasure. Fittingly, Friedkin has served up the cinematic equivalent of a KFC binge.