William Friedkin is sharp enough to realize that the plot of Tracy Letts' trailer trash noir is not something to be taken seriously. This isn't a crime story that it is going to tie its plot threads up up in a graceful bow like The Grifters. This story is a thinly constructed excuse for the movie's twisted comedy and Grand Guignol shock-o-rama, and on that account Killer Joe certainly gives you your money's worth.
The plot for what its worth: Emile Hirsch needs five thousand dollars or some drug dealers are going to kill him. He enlists the aide of his remarkably dim father, Thomas Hayden Church, and when they rub their two IQ points together they get a spark. They will bump off Hirsch's mom (Church's ex-wife) for the insurance money. Since they don't have the wherewithal for murder they hire McConaughey, a local police detective who moonlights as a killer for higher, hence, Killer Joe. The twist comes when Joe decides to take Hirsch's Lolita-like sister Dottie for collateral until the money rolls in. What could go wrong? Besides everything, obviously.
The whole cast is aces, especially a fearless Gina Gershon as a woman so crude she greets any stranger at the door with her naked crotch. But that said, this is McConaughey's from show top to bottom. The centerpiece of the film is Joe's unsettling seduction of the somewhat touched teenager played by Juno Temple, and McConaughey doesn't hold back, laying on the serpentine sexuality. I thought those critics who compared his work her to the laid back charm of Robert Mitchum had taken leave of their senses, but no, he earns the comparison. Think of all the great performances we missed while he was marking time in rom-com Purgatory like Ghosts of Girlfriends Past ?
In Killer Joe's final act the set up of the film's first two thirds are revealed to be a springboard for the film to go gleefully, balls-to-the-wall insane. I wish I could say I went over-the-top with it, but I found myself admiring the film for its nerve more than I thrilled by watching McConaughey hand these dumb-as-dirt characters their comeuppance. One big problem is that the lynchpin character of Dottie is so underdeveloped we are left in the dark to her character's state of mind during crucial moments. Still, for Letts' black humor (Joe's early monologue about a domestic disturbance call is pitch black comedy gold) and for McConaughey's revelatory performance, I would recommend Killer Joe to people willing to take a walk on the batshit crazy side. Verdict: 6 out of 10