The pit bull outside the Smith’s trailer barks at everyone, but Joe. Joe wears a black cowboy hat sitting atop his jet black hair with his black aviator resting on his nose. Joe is a part-time police detective and part-time hit-man. He knows everybody on either side of the law. Now Chris Smith is in need of Joe’s services. Chris is in debt to some very bad people. He needs money and he knows exactly where to get it. Chris is told that his estranged mom has a life insurance policy worth 50 grand and Chris’s sister Dotty is the sole benefactor. Needless to say, mother needs to have an unfortunate accident—quickly.
Based on the Terry Lett’s play, Director William Freidkin takes Killer Joe and makes a film that is disturbingly visceral. You feel every punch, gun shot, and betrayal. Freidkin enjoys presenting characters that are unlikable. Innocence is hard to find in Killer Joe but it can be found in Dotty (Juno Temple), Chris’s 12-year-old sister. Yet, even that is taken away from her early in the film. Chris enlists the help of his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) to stake him so he doesn’t end up at the bottom of the trash heap. Like his son, Ansel works at the local mechanic shop and does not have the money, and doesn’t seem that particularly worried that his son is in danger. Chris hires the aforementioned Joe Cooper (Matthew McCaunghey) to deal with his mother. Ansel or Chris can’t pay Joe the money until the insurance money is collected. Joe comes up with what he calls a “retainer.” Joe wants to date young Dotty, until he gets his money. Chris and Ansel agree. Dotty is Joe’s.
Dotty is the lamb to Joe’s wolf. Dotty is a young virginal young girl who is unaware of Joe’s intentions, but relents to Joe’s unusual sexual quirks. McCaunghey gives his best performance as the sexually and physically abrasive gun for hire. In fact, the film is filled with hypnotic performances from the 2013 Academy Award winner to Gina Gershon as Ansel’s unfaithful new wife.
Freidkin, as his previous work (The Exorcist, Cruising, and Bug) has shown us he is comfortable showing the most uncomfortable of situations. The chicken leg scene is one of the more disturbing scenes to which I have been witness to. Freidkin also uses his prowess for showing us that cop and criminal are not that diametrically different, a concept originally seen in The French Connection. Joe is at once guardian and terrorizer to the Smith family. Fredikin uses all his powers to give us Killer Joe, an uncomfortable, but worthwhile watch.