Killer Joe is a thriller that never quite leaves behind its stage-bound roots in making the transition from play to screen. But that's not necessarily a bad thing when you're talking about a broad, incendiary slice of Texas gothic.
The characters are bigger than life, and lower than low. Everybody's vile, with the title character the most villainous. Everybody shouts, save for the title character, who is so scary he doesn't need to. The dialogue is arch, risible, trailer-park Faulkner.
The casting is a trifle too on-the-nose. Emile Hirsch of Into the Wild is the manic young punk who sets off this tale of murder mom/murder-for-hire. Gina Gershon ( Showgirls) has played plenty of women who might be comfortable answering the door with no pants or panties on. Thomas Haden Church's deadpan stare and honking voice are spot-on as a dullard dad who is slow on the uptake. And Matthew McConaughey, in the performance of his career, tones down his swagger to a mere suggestion as a Dallas cop and part-time hit man who never raises his voice and thus stands out. For this, the best film of the summer, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts doesn't water down this nasty script about thoroughly nasty folks for the screen, which means Killer Joe moves from stage to cinema with an NC-17 rating. But you'd hate to censor a word, a suggestion, a single blast of cruelty or kinkiness.
And director William Friedkin, decades removed from his French Connection glory, gets in there and gets out of the way of the "fun."
Letts creates a Blue Velvet world of crude lowlifes, kinky customers and criminals, which Friedkin suggests without ever taking his camera too far from the trailer where much of this takes place. Friedkin never quite lets us forget this was a play, though, confining the action to the middle and later acts, except for one dazzling sequence in which he shows us he still knows how to stage and shoot a chase scene better than anybody.
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