It does seem a strange choice for the opening night film though but it isn't easily forgettable and it does set a strong tone for the rest of the festival this year.
He plans to hire a man named Joe, a police Detective who also carries out private services for rather large sums of money, to kill his mother in order that they can get their hands on the insurance money and split it amongst all the interested parties, once Joe has been paid off of course.
The problem is that Joe doesn't work without a down payment, and lacking the money a deal is struck to give Joe Chris' sister as sexual retainer until the insurance money arrives, but things aren't going to run as smoothly as everyone hoped.
Let me just say up front if you are concerned about Matthew McConaughey starring in the film then you can put those concerns to the side for this isn't one of his romantic comedy performances you might be forgiven for associating with him. Here we see a different side of McConaughey, a strong and controlled performance that at times allows him to show a darker, more intelligent side to the actor.
I have to say that this is the best part of the film for me, McConaughey's performance as the Killer Joe. You know that he's a good actor but it just seems that's he's been in so many lesser films where he hasn't been given the roles to allow him to stretch and flex his acting talent, instead stretching and flexing his muscles to gain the attention of the ladies.
McConaughey isn't alone though. Emile Hirsch provides a good performance as Chris but Gina Gershon as his stepmother; Thomas Haden Church as his father and Juno Temple as his sister provide the other strong performances in the film with Gershon reminding us of what she's capable of, and not just in looking fantastic but in delivering a convincing performance. In the latter stages of the film she does get a chance to really shine with her performance is during one of the most disturbing sections of the film.
The story plays out well and allows the Joe character to be built slowly. To begin with there's a slightly humours feel to him despite the fact that he does come across as a calculated man. However the story builds the darker side of the character in small almost unnoticeable steps until the climatic sections where he's allowed to open up on a clearly psychotic character, although still managing to keep a semblance of control.
There's a good amount of dark humour in the film starting off relatively amusingly and becoming darker as the events get more serious, managing to raise some laughs with three or four moments where the hardened press audience laughed out loud, and not just a gentle laugh but some hearty laughs to boot. The humour doesn't feel out of place but sits well with the rest of the story, never pulling away from the darker side other than to release some tension.
It's interesting to watch the other characters getting tied deeper and deeper into their fates and their relationships and plans falling apart as events become more twisted at each step. The only character that feels as though they have some semblance of self respect and respect for those around him is surprisingly the dim-witted father, although even he seems to turn as the pressure builds.
Tracy Letts' play must be an interesting one to watch and not just for the level of nudity and violence, but because of how the film develops and delivers that closing section. It's a violent and twisted one where all the threads have been building to. It certainly delivers some surprises and left me looking at the screen for some time still trying to absorb what I'd just seen.
William Friedkin delivers a strong and slick film, although there are a couple of moments where I wondered where we were in the timeline as scenes seem to jump a little too far, however all in all it's a good thriller that has some strong visual style to it and doesn't go too far into the weird as I thought Bug did, worth noting that it too was a Tracy Letts play.
I do still wonder about the ending and I'm not totally convinced that it stopped at just the right point, however stop it did and it had me thinking about it long after the ending, something I always say is the sign of a good film.
William Friedkin delivers a strong thriller that has a good visual style to it but never overpowers the story and he concentrates on his characters and the script, and with a strong cast to back him up with McConaughey, Gershon, Church and Temple, Killer Joe turns out to be one of his strongest films.
The film can be violent and disturbing, particularly during the closing sequences which are powerful and will leave you staring at the screen, however it isn't overly so in any of those areas. It does build these feelings slowly and it doesn't deliver a sudden or an out of character shock when events reach their dramatic conclusion.
Matthew McConaughey delivers a great performance as Killer Joe although it is fair to say that he has a great character to play delivered by Letts' play and screenplay. She also delivers some other strong characters in a clever and intelligent story that cleverly builds the darkness but still finds humour.
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