It's not something I say everyday and not what I was expecting to see when I pootled off for a matinee screening of Killer Joe. In fact at times, as I sat in the darkened cinema, I felt a bit like one of the tragic rainmac brigade silently shuffling themselves into celluloid oblivion such was the sleaze on offer.
Adapted from a play by Tracy Letts much of the plot centers around the grubby interior of the Texan trailer where white trash scumbags Ansel, Sharla and Chris Smith (Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon and Emile Hirsch) concoct a scheme to bump off Ansel's ex in order to cash in on her life insurance policy. They employ the services of demented detective Joe Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) to do the deed but get more than they bargain for when things go pear shaped.
Killer Joe is stylishly shot and has its moments but its not smart enough to challenge the Coens and not funny enough to rival Tarantino, both of whom have made a career in this down-at-heel story telling territory. William Freidkin, never the most understated of directors, instead sticks to what he is good at; shocking extremes. Violence comes in it all its visceral glory and the sex is a sleazy as it gets.
A gratuitous scene involving Gina Gershon fellating a chicken drumstick will have you laughing and cringing in the space of of a minute. McConaughey relationship with Ansel's underage daughter Dottie (Juno Temple) is also particularly unsettling. You do question some of Freidkin's choices. Does he push the limits in order to further the story or is he just trying to provoke a reaction? Whatever the reasons, as a whole, the film lacks that certain charm or intelligence to balance out the darkness.
Killer Joe's deficiencies are not down to a lack of acting talent. In a stiff middle finger to his critics McConaughey's Johnny Cash crossed with Red Rock West-era Hopper shows that there is more to him than just a toned six-pack and mega-watt smile. Emile Hersch continues his fabulous run of acting performances (Into The Wild is a must see) and Thomas Haden Church wins the award for dumbest lunkhead since Mr Bean.
It is a shame the good performances are let down by some unrealistic character behaviour (Gershon gets clocked and then calmly sits down to eat the rest of her chicken with a smile on her bloodied face) and a shock ending that tries a little too hard to stay in the memory.
Still, kudos to Freidkin for doing something different and for managing to get a film through the creatively bankrupt studio system that isn't a sequel, a comic book adaptation or a Disney animation.