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Killer Joe

Year: 2011
Production Co: Voltage Pictures
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracey Letts
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon

One of the titans of 1970s cinema, today William Friedkin is more like a scrappy little independent filmmaker with no money but lots of passion and an undeniable talent for the medium.

To say his films are still as good as they once were is wrong, and not really fair. This movie and Bug are so far removed from The Exorcist and The French Connection it feels wrong to call them both cinema.

Where Bug was weird, this one is outer space oddball. Based on a play, it's an actors' piece more than a story, and even though you probably won't enjoy it any more than Bug (at least I got to the end), if you dig deeper you'll appreciate the craft.

The title refers to a corrupt cop (McConaughey, playing the second in a series of dark tales about human trash, after The Paperboy) who sidelines as a hitman – part cowboy, part Elivs, very mean.

A family of trailer trash lowlives are on hard times. Son Chris (Hirsch) comes home in the middle of the night pounding on the door, waking his monumentally stupid father Ansel (Church), trashy stepmother Sharla (Gershon) and weird, wide-eyed sister Dottie (Temple) to tell them he's in trouble with gangsters who'll kill him for the money he owes them.

He comes up with a scheme – hire Joe to kill his mother (who the story promises is an equal waste of oxygen) and collect the insurance money. Joe comes in and he's the only one with any brains among the whole gang, but when he does the job things turn out badly. The family isn't the beneficiary. Joe wants to get paid regardless, and he'll accept the cute young Dottie as a down payment.

It's a noir tale but there are way too many completely baffling sequences for it to be very accessible. I'd heard about the infamous chicken scene from other reviews and feared the worst. When it comes it's well acted and indeed disturbing but what the hell it has to do with anything I still don't know.

It's hard to follow anyone's motivations or reason for what they do, and it's very hard to invest in any of the characters, all of them except Dottie so vile you hardly care what happens to them.

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