"Joe is almost a killer"
by Andy MOSELEY on 05/07/12

In Killer Joe, William Friedkin's adaptation of the Tracy Letts play of the same name, Chris (Emile Hirsch), does what every young man would do with debts he can't pay and a mother he can't stand. He hires Joe, a contract killer, to terminate her life so that he can claim her life assurance policy. Should all be simple enough, only his younger sister, Dotty, is the beneficiary, which means he needs to get his dad, and mom's ex-husband, on board, and there is also the small problem of not having the money to pay Joe's fee, and his reluctance to accept cash on delivery. In lieu of payment, Joe asks for Dotty as a retainer. Chris has reservations with pimping out his sister, but needn't worry, as Dotty's initial reluctance soon gives way, and she and Joe form a relationship stronger than anything she has with the rest of her family. It could almost be heading for a twisted happy ending, until things go horribly wrong with the discovery that Dotty is not actually the beneficiary, and Chris was duped into thinking she was by the person who does stand to get the money.

The cast all give great performances, Matthew McConaughey, as the titular Killer Joe, combines menace with a disarming charm and business-like approach to his chosen pastime - his 9 to 5 profession is as a cop- Emile Hirsh is convincingly out of his depth as Chris a man who is caught up in gambling debts because life doesn't offer him any alternative, and is now taking desperate measures to clear them in the hope of living a normal life, and Thomas Hayden Church gives a great performance as a dad for whom the question of helping to kill your ex-wife appears no more unusual, and carries no greater consequence, than being asked to take out the trash at the end of an evening. Gina Gershon, as his new wife, completes the trailer park dynamic of a family living on the fringes of society where questions of morality are blurred by economic necessity. Against this backdrop of characters, Juno Temple gives the films standout performance as Dotty, mixing child-like innocence with a detached awareness born out being part of a family her mother told her she did not intend her to be born into. This makes her initial coyness and reluctance to dress up for Joe, as convincing and believable as her subsequent infatuation with him.

Letts writes wonderfully observant comedy that captures the essence of small town America without ever patronising his characters. The dialogue is naturalistic, however preposterous and unbelievable the subject matter may appear to be. Friedkin combines his bleak humour with a fierce violence, but unfortunately this is where the film lets the script down. The graphic nature of two assaults on Chris, and another on his step-mother, take us out of Letts' world and into something too extreme for the shambolic lifestyles of the characters. Friedkin also dampens down the humour by imbuing the film with a seriousness it does not warrant. The film may be based on a true story, but these are people who stumble into events rather than taking conscious, well-considered decisions to get there. The balance between bleakness and comedy isn't quite achieved. It is still a very good film and one that will keep you amused and engrossed from start to finish, but it would have been better if it took itself just a little less seriously.

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