Tastes like chicken – Killer Joe review

Killer Joe – Starring Matthew McConaugheyEmile Hirsch, and Juno Temple. Directed by William Friedkin. Originally published June 18, 2012. By Richard Haridy.

Killer Joe plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 3 and 8, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date. This review was first run during the Sydney Film Festival.

Killer Joe is a grubby blast of amoral fun featuring a revelatory turn by Matthew McConaughey as the titular Joe; a smooth cop who moonlights as a hitman. Emile Hirsch is Chris, a redneck who owes money to some less than reputable characters. Chris hatches a plan to murder his estranged mother for the insurance money and brings in his dad, Ansel, to help him out. Realising they aren’t smart enough to pull off a murder they decide to hire Killer Joe to do the job, except Joe demands payment upfront and the boys have no money. Chris’ sister, Dottie, catches Joe’s eye and Joe suggests an unconventional arrangement (let’s call it a retainer).

Killer Joe is in many ways old-fashioned despite frequent moments of modern, explicit brutality. It feels as if it’s filtered through a lens that blends early 90s neo-noir features like Red Rock West with a gritty exploitation vibe from grind-house 70s films. It should come as no surprise to discover William Friedkin (The ExorcistThe French ConnectionCruising) is the directorial force behind this perverted gem although there’s such a youthful energy behind the movie that you would never guess Friedkin was 76 years old.

Across the board, Killer Joe showcases fantastic performances, including Thomas Haden Church as the laconic and not so smart, Ansel; Juno Temple shows herself to be a star in the making as the sweet Dottie; and Gina Gershon again proves she is up for anything as Ansel’s girlfriend and co-conspirator. The picture is all about McConaughey though, and he gives a truly game-changing performance that perfectly balances charm and menace. After a great turn in The Lincoln Lawyer last year and several more fascinating upcoming roles, McConaughey has finally stepped out of the rom-com cruise control mode we lost him in for a while and is proving himself to be a stellar actor.

Transcending the theatrical origins of the source material, Killer Joe is a supremely fun little noir story. Violent, coarse, perverted, and sickly hilarious, this is highly recommend for those who like their entertainment on the nasty, demented tip.


Killer Joe plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 3 and 8, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date. 

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