Matthew McConaughey plays a detective with a deadly sideline in Killer Joe
Published: 28 June, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by William Friedkin
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
Your mum steals your stash, leaving you heavily in debt to the type of people that you really don’t want to be heavily in debt to.
So you hatch a plot with your dad to bump her off, claim the life insurance and save yourself from a beating.
It’s not a nice premise to start a film with, and brilliantly sets the tone for Killer Joe, a crazy, well-paced adventure through the dirty suburbs of Dallas.
Chris (Emile Hirsch) is up against a drug-running, protection-racketing bigwig, who employs Hell’s Angels attack dogs to ensure small-time dealers don’t stray.
A way out comes in the form of the $50,000 life insurance policy that will go to his little sister Dottie (Juno Temple) if mum should come a cropper.
Chris and his dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church, with a character whose name recalls the great American landscape photographer, and whose beefy looks fit in with the idea of your average blue-collar who has, like the nation, begun to wither) don’t have the cunning to take her out without getting caught, and that’s where Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) comes in.
A detective in the Dallas police department, he runs a sideline in bumping off people for cash. He is promised a wedge if mum gets it – but takes an unhealthy shine to little Dottie in the process.
This is a Texas of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, seen through the eyes of James M Cain and Jack Kerouac, a contemporary piece of film noir, whose grandparents were the 50s drifters, the ex-GIs who became dead-eyed in European battlefields and returned to country with a clear demarcation line between the haves and have-nots.
It has a vein of grotesque humour running through it, the type that Tarantino did so well in parts of Pulp Fiction.
But a couple of moments are particularly disturbing, and take Killer Joe lurching away from Quentin’s posturing gaiety into something much darker.
In this America, where the dream has become a nightmare, there is also a nasty sense of sexual violence.
The stench of poverty permeates each scene: the unemployed men’s demand for their “beer money” from the women who have low-paid jobs, the tin-shack mobile homes that have weeds growing in the mud around their long-withered tyres, the constantly barking dog, which prompts the mantra, “shut up,
T-Bone”, in almost every other scene, the drugs and guns and violence that are as natural to this cast as escapism provided by the monster truck programmes constantly on the TV.
This film is also about decay.
This is a Texas that has long been soiled by unfettered oil-capitalism, a once-fertile land of rolling plains now marked not by roaming buffalo but by crackheads huddling under concrete flyovers.
It’s an enthralling film, depressing, at times funny, and constantly disturbing. It is also, on a deeper level, a damning indictment of a nation-state that has rotted from within.