"Do you like Texas?" Chris (Emile Hirsch) asks his sister, Dottie (Juno Temple).
The question comes toward the end of "Killer Joe," and anyone watching the movie might be forgiven for answering a resounding no. This Texas -- which is a small part of the big state -- is ugly. Dottie, in fact, is the only object of beauty in it. And every other character seems intent on using her purity to buy his or her own twisted salvation.
"Killer Joe" puts the black back into black comedy. Compared with this piece of work, most other films classified under that label look more like fairy tales. It's a brutal film about nasty people -- but it's funny, too. You might not find yourself laughing out loud. But its deadpan one-liners will stay in your head long after you've walked out of the theater.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon|
|Director: William Friedkin|
|Rated: NC-17 for graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality|
|Running time: 103 minutes|
"We don't want to do this, but it's gotta be done," Chris tells the title character, a hitman he hires to kill his mother. As Chris's father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), says, "What's better for Dottie?" Having a mother who doesn't love her, or collecting the insurance policy after she's gone?
These men are no altruists, of course. Chris is a small-time drug dealer -- he needs the money to pay back a debt, or he's dead. And when they can't pay Joe's (Matthew McConaughey) fee in advance, they're all too willing to pass over the virginal Dottie as a "retainer."
The plot is preposterous, of course. Chris gets a beating and is told to come up with the money in two days. But what insurance company would cut a check that fast, especially when the death won't look anything but suspicious?
It's the writing, and the uncommon characters it reveals, that allows us to suspend disbelief. William Friedkin, best known for "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection," directs this adaptation of the first play by Tracy Letts, who went on to win the Pulitizer for "August: Osage County."
The cast of eccentrics is brought to pitch-perfect life by an unlikely cast. Thomas Haden Church got an Oscar nod for his portrayal of the womanizer in "Sideways." Here, he's almost unrecognizable as a clueless cuckold. Gina Gershon is delicious as his oversexed wife. But it's McConaughey who steals the show. His Joe is something of an enigma, a man who thoughtfully brings flowers when he comes to claim his unwilling, underage collateral. Life is stranger than fiction, they say. But few pieces of fiction are as strange as the oddly winsome "Killer Joe."