Movie Review: 'Killer Joe' -- 2.5 stars
Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple
"Killer Joe" is a brave endeavor, if not a successful one. While most movies play things safe, this over-the-top NC-17 madhouse goes for the whole megillah and more.
Embracing the stigmatized rating, veteran director William Friedkin -- an Oscar winner for "The French Connection" -- crafts a trailer-trash soap opera populated by scummy, nightmarish Southern cliches. Working from a screenplay adapted by Tracey Letts ("August: Osage County") from Letts' own play, Friedkin offers a motley depiction of seriously deviant behavior.
Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is a down-on-his-luck redneck mired in severe gambling debt. The one ray of hope in his sad daily slog: his mom's got a lucrative life insurance policy. So Chris and dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) hire hitman Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to off her.
The standard noir set-up, transposing the usual urban setting for low-rent trailer park filth, gives way to a sort of gleeful perversity as the movie rolls on, Joe's psychotic nature becomes increasingly more evident and Chris' younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) gets wrapped up in the scheme.
Impeccably shot by director of photography Caleb Deschanel -- with melodramatic camera angles enhancing the grimy setting -- and steadily guided by Friedkin's eye for controlled mania, the film offers a comprehensive immersion in its depraved world.
But ultimately "Killer Joe," packed with miserable stereotypes doing miserable things with no sense of a higher purpose, plays like a dramatized version of "The Jerry Springer Show." It's so geared to shock you it falls flat.