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Zimbio Review - 'Killer Joe' is Not Your Daddy's Western

(Getty Images | Voltage Pictures)
Should you see it?

It's fantastically violent and funny, full of nudity, and contains every curse word ever used... if you like those types of things.
There's every other movie in 2012 and then there's Killer Joe, the type of film you just don't see anymore. A throwback to the dirt and grime of '70s films by wild men like Sam Peckinpah, it'll make your mother run for the hills. The blackest of black comedies, Killer Joe's a journey to the ugliest corners of human nature and the English language. In other words, it's Texas... and it's a fucking hoot.

The film plays out in the streets and dilapidated trailers posing as homes in a dustbowl section of Dallas. The opening scene sets the tone as Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) screams at a chained up pitbull and is greeted at the door by his stepmother Sharla's jungle of pubic hair. Played by Gina Gershon, Sharla curses at Chris for getting her up which awakens his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church). Chris is in deep with a local mobster but he's got a plan: kill his mother and collect the insurance.

A scrapper and undersized chatterbox whose mouth writes checks his ass can't cash, Chris is trouble incarnate. His father is the opposite, an oversized dummy who spits on the floor and talks to the TV during monster truck races. They are an underwhelming team so when they rightly decide they can't pull off the scheme themselves, they enlist the help of a local cop who moonlights as a hit man.

Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), AKA "Killer Joe," is the oil in the water of this dirty town. Dressed in black leather, sunglasses, and a cowboy hat, he struts into the meeting with Chris and Ansel quietly. He's not flashy. He lays out his terms like a pro and balks when Chris proposes to pay him after the murder. Joe has an alternative though, a retainer: Chris' sister, Dottie (Juno Temple).

This is the best we've seen from McConaughey. Known for his pussycat roles in rom-coms, I've always admired him for his unique manner of speech. Born in southern Texas, Killer Joe brings out the redneck in him. He plays Joe with the guile of a snake, able to charm the mustard off a hot dog while maintaining a dangerously scary edge. He's a walking switchblade.

Joe licks his lips at the sight of young Dottie, a virginal rube who sleepwalks and speaks her mind like a child. She is unfiltered and blessedly naive, able to retreat under the covers while the world burns outside. Chris won't forsake her, but after he's brutally beaten by the greasy mobster Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay), he has no choice. "I feel like I'm not supposed to be on this Earth." He says.

It's both uncomfortable and hilarious watching Sharla and Ansel talk Dottie into a "date" with Joe. They plan a dinner for the family and awkwardly flake out, leaving the girl alone with the psychotic. As Joe circles his prey, staring at her breasts and sweet talking her, he slowly gains Dottie's interest and undresses her, both physically and mentally. Soon enough, the slick murderer is a part of the family.

The film features a grand finale as the promise to pay Joe does not pan out. The heretofore reserved hitman explodes in a sequence of savageness and atrocity that goes so over the top, it's impossible not to hate Friedkin and admire his fearlessness at the same time. Gershon and Hirsch absorb the brunt of the punishment and their performances match their director's bravery. You'll never look at a chicken wing from "K-Fried-C" the same way again.

Killer Joe is really a simple little tale. What separates it is the frank, spectacular language that defines each character. It's Bukowski come to life in the American south, a region as imbued in blood as any other. Friedkin has brought the ferocity of the wild west back. Trailers have replaced saloons and beat up pickups have taken the place of horses, but the violence lives on in a sadistic lawman named Killer Joe.

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