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  Killer Joe Poor Relations
Year: 2011
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Scott A. Martin, Gralen Bryant Banks, Carol Sutton, Danny Epper, Jeff Galpin, Marc Macaulay, Gregory C. Bauchaud, Charley Vance
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's a rainy night in Texas, and in this trailer park Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is hammering to be let in to one of the homes, yelling for his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) to open the door so he can get out of the downpour and relieve himself in the bathroom. But it's not Dottie who opens the door, it's her stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon), who is wearing nothing but a T-shirt, which alarms Chris, though what he really wants to do is speak with his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) about what they can do with his ex-wife, and Chris and Dottie's mother who has just thrown him out. Like murder her.

After director William Friedkin adapted Bug, he was evidently so impressed with playwright Tracy Letts that for his next work he asked him to pen a screenplay for his first theatrical production, which had been Killer Joe. As with their previous collaboration, there was an intensity to the plot and a concentration on the lower strata of society, which could leave this open to accusations of not merely patronising its characters but being actively scathing about the underclass they belonged to. There's only one really sympathetic person here and that's the somewhat pixilated Dottie, and her excuse for being such an innocent that she's possibly insane.

Everyone else with more than a few lines is a case of terrible things happening to terrible people, so while you could argue that individuals such as them exist, Letts wasn't bringing much new to the table by depicting them in such disgusted terms. That said, it's not as if Killer Joe was badly written, quite the opposite, as every line of dialogue served a purpose and was not merely a bunch of lowlifes being horrible to one another even if that's how it seemed shortly after it began, and indeed for the rest of the time once the set up was established. The battle for Dottie's soul appeared to be underway, as through no fault of her own her purity represented the only ray of light which everyone around her coveted jealously.

This was a murder scheme they were caught up in, and though we never hear the potential victim speak or even slightly get to know her, we wonder if she can only be better than those who want her dead. When Chris finds out she has a fifty thousand dollar life insurance policy which will be paid to Dottie, he hits on the idea of murdering his mother and dividing the proceeds between himself, his sister, his none-too-smart father and (reluctantly) his hated stepmother, mainly so that he is able to pay off the debts he has amassed while dealing drugs, for he's not long for this world should he fail to drum up a load of cash sharpish to give to some very bad men. Not wishing to get his hands dirty, he knows someone who will carry out the deed.

This is the Killer Joe of the title, played by Matthew McConaughey in his later period mode where he would take more challenging roles than audiences were accustomed to seeing him in, and he certainly went beyond his previous romantic comedies, especially in this film's fried chicken scene, so notorious it was referred to on the poster. Cop Joe, when his payment is looking uncertain, takes a "retainer" which is Dottie's virginity, and nobody wants to turn him down for he fairly brims with contained violence which you'd be right in assuming will erupt before the end credits. Your tolerance for scuzzy characters was well put to the test here, with it painful to see the young woman sacrificed in such a way, but it remained compelling thanks to its combination of talents - writing, directing, acting - even if you'd run a mile from most of this lot in real life. This went so far it could have qualified as a bad taste comedy if given a nudge in that direction, but Friedkin ensured menace was the overriding tone. Music by Tyler Bates.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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William Friedkin  (1935 - )

American writer/director who has struggled throughout his career to escape the legacy of two of his earliest films. Debuted in 1967 with the Sonny & Cher flick Good Times, but it was the gripping French Connection (1971) and phenomenonally popular The Exorcist (1973) that made Friedkin's name and influenced a whole decade of police and horror films. Since then, some of Friedkin's films have been pretty good (Sorcerer, the controversial Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., Blue Chips, Bug, Killer Joe), but many more (The Guardian, Jade, Rules of Engagement) have shown little of the director's undoubtable talent.

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