Directed by the legend that is William Friedkin (who scared us silly with The Exorcist and thrilled us with The French Connection) and written by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the play that the film was based on) Killer Joe takes great pains to tell us that all the things we suspected about American “trailer trash” were true.
There is even an ending to the film that could have come straight off the Maury show. But despite looking like a Jerry Springer or Steve Wilkos episode gone wrong, Killer Joe steps into the dark territory of the black comedy with overtures of depravity and being dirt poor in the southern gothic arena of Texas.
While mixing my metaphors, I do have to point out, that KJ is not politically correct nor does it try to keep from using southern stereotypes to send its message. From the incredibly rich “good ol’ boy” that Chris needs to payback to the illiterate shambling hulk that is Chris’s father, each and every character in this film are stereotypes. Even Killer Joe himself.
But perhaps none more than Dottie; Chris’s sister. Dottie’s mother tried to kill her when she was an infant by holding a pillow over her face. An act that Dottie solemnly relates to Joe as one she remembers. She also tells him that her mother thought that she had succeeded but that she, Dottie, wasn’t dead.
But I am getting ahead of myself here, so I’ll get back on track now.
The film follows the trails and tribulations of the Smith family in one of the poorer Dallas trailer parks. Chris owes a lot of money to the local redneck loan shark and he is desperate to pay him off. He approaches his dad, Ansel for a thousand dollars to keep ‘Red’ from killing him.
Ansel doesn’t have a thousand dollars and with a hangdog delivery states that he’s never had a thousand dollars in his entire life. Ansel’s wife Sharla hates Chris and wants him thrown out of their trailer which Chris has come to after his mother Adele has kicked him out of hers.
Adele is Ansel’s ex-wife and according to her boyfriend Rex, is worth 50 thousand dollars dead. Rex also tells Chris that the money would go to Dottie and he reveals the existence of Killer Joe, a police detective who is also a contract killer. He tells Chris how Joe operates and Chris decides that his mother Adele must go.
Since Chris and Ansel don’t have the money to pay Joe up-front, Joe decides that he will take Dottie as a ‘retainer’ until the job is finished. Unfortunately things don’t go as planned.
|Thomas Haden Church||…|
While Killer Joe could be seen as an ensemble film, it really follows Dottie and Chris. Dottie, who obviously suffered brain damage from oxygen deprivation when her mother attempted to smother her, is what we would have called simple or “touched” when I was a boy. Nowadays, in this more politically aware world, we’d say mentally challenged. Chris is just trouble on two legs. He has a penchant for failure and his failings unfortunately touch a lot of people, especially his family.
Killer Joe, besides being a cop and a contract killer, is a cold and detached man who likes things spelled out and who does not, apparently, like foul language.
The other two immediate characters are Ansel and Sharla. Looking and acting like refugees from the Maury Show, these two are living proof that Texas trailer trash exist and they both possess a disturbing nature and disposition.
Adele, the object of the proposed hit and Rex her boyfriend are shadowy figures that we never really see, even though Adele is the catalyst that moves the main theme of the film along.
There are several twists to this film and all are done expertly. Woven into the action and coming from different directions, the best twist of all is Dottie. I can say nothing more, otherwise this will fall under “spoiler” territory.
By the time this film reached its climax I sat shaking my head in wonderment. This was darkly entertaining and disturbing at the same time. I knew people like Ansel, Chris and Dottie when I was growing up. Luckily, I knew of someone like ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper, but had no direct dealings with him. The most this version of Joe was capable of was petty larceny and blackmail.
So for me, these stereotypical characters had a stamp of reality in their makeup.
Friedkin has lost none of his deft touch and the film works in spite of its reliance on stereotypes. I would give this film a solid 5 out of 5 stars simply for the very last twist in the film. If it doesn’t leave you sitting and looking at the screen shaking your head? I will be surprised.
- Killer Joe and the Downward Friedkin Spiral. (telaveev.wordpress.com)
- Under the Radar?: “Killer Joe” (fogsmoviereviews.com)
- 2012 Mini-Reviews: Killer Joe, Michael, Headhunters, Premium Rush, Bachelorette (twscritic.com)
- Matthew McConaughey Gives Viewers a Strong Jolt of Reckoning in ‘Killer Joe’ (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Review: Killer Joe (2011) (prettycleverfilms.com)
- Killer Joe – One Sentence Review (spiritofthething.wordpress.com)
- Juno Temple: trailer trash, naughty schoolgirl, stripper nanny, bitchy aristo (standard.co.uk)
- On the boards: Killer Joe kidnaps audience into ugly world of trailer park (lfpress.com)
- Killer Joe (2011) (rorydean.wordpress.com)