The first film of 2013 couldn't have been more bizarre. Killer Joe walks a fine line between a dark comedy and a sick thriller.
The film follows Chris (Emile Hirsch), a young Texan drug dealer who, after falling in debt with some thugs, decides to murder his alcoholic mother to collect the insurance money. He then recruits the help of his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and his current wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon). Although they try not to involve her, Chris young and naive sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), also agrees to the deed. To achieve their goal, they hire the titular character, Joe Cooper (Matthew McCounaghey), a detective whose side job is as a contract killer. When Chris can't come up with Joe's $25,000 fee up front, Joe asks for Dottie as a retainer. And from there, the plot unravels in what ends up being a chaotic mess.
I have to say, I rented this expecting it to be more of a suspense/thriller. I never thought the film would end up being what it is. And what a bizarre and twisted film it ended up being. I'm still not sure what to make of it, but it sure wasn't boring. The film gloats in its own chaotic and messy nature, as if there were no bridles to hold it back. Depending on what you expect, or how receptive you are, this might be good or bad.
For starters, during the first hour or so, I thought most of the acting was uneven. Everyone from Hirsch and Haden Church, to Gershon interacted and behaved in a sort of self-conscious way, screaming in what seemed to me as unnatural or awkward. Now, on hindsight, I wonder if it was part of the darkly comedic tone of the film. Temple was the only one of the lead family that was pretty good from the beginning. Her performance as the innocent and childlike Dottie was pretty good, without limiting herself to the usual crutches of this type of characters.
But either way, the standout of the film is Matthew McCounaghey as the titular character. McCounaghey completely owns the role of Killer Joe in what I think is one, if not the best performance I've seen of him. His character is a contradiction, in every single way. A police detective, who happens to be a contract killer on the side. A murderer who sometimes investigates his own murderers. A man of order in the middle of the chaos, that which sometimes he is a part of. McCounaghey gives so many layers to Joe, as we see him charmed by Dottie one moment, and then intimidating Chris and Ansel. As reprehensible as his actions might be, he maintains a sense of order in everything he does: his punctuality, his manners, the way he talks. His "employers", in the other hand, are a total mess in all those same aspects.
The climatic scene of the film is a tense dinner at the trailer of our characters which brings to the surface some of this contradictions. In this scene, all the characters collide in one of the most twisted and intense scenes I've seen recently, as Joe confronts the intentions and motivations of each of them. Again, we have to wonder, who is the bad guy then? who is the killer? Despite all the serious ramifications, there are moments in the scene where I was just chuckling and asking myself "WTF?", highlighted by the awkwardly anti-climatic ending. But even if you chuckle or shake your head at it all, I think it was worth it.
Initially, I wasn't sure what to think of the film and didn't grade it. But as time has passed by, I can say I really liked it. I think it's worth a watch for anyone who's ready for something odd, or for a great performance from an underrated actor. Grade: B+
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