"Who would like to say grace?" -- Joe
This latter-day film from the director of The Exorcist is based on a play by Tracy Letts, who also did the screenplay. Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) owes thousands of dollars to bookies who are threatening him with death and disfigurement, so he hatches a plan -- with the full approval of his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), virginal sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), and stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) -- to hire a hit man to murder his hated mother. The hired gun they choose is a West Dallas detective known as "Killer Joe" (Matthew McConaughey), who insists on being paid $25,000 up front. When Chris tells him that they can only pay him after they get his mother's insurance money, Joe demands a retainer -- Dottie. No one gives him any argument. Of course, things don't quite work out the way everyone thinks they will. Killer Joe is a well-made and well-acted black -- very black -- comedy that leads up to some disquieting, but hardly unexpected, violence. Ever since the relative success of Pulp Fiction, we've gotten all sorts of movies in which the characters are all complete low lives, and this is just another one, although it holds the attention for the most part and has some riveting sequences. Gershon is excellent, and Smith and Temple do the best they can considering the material. McConaughey seems miscast at first, but he quietly etches a disturbing portrait of simmering and slithering evil. Church seems like just a variation on the idiot "Lowell" that he played on the sitcom Wings; in fact, the whole movie resembles a particularly dark sitcom with violence. An unpleasant aspect of the movie is that at times it seems like little more than an excuse to brutalize women. A fellatio scene involving a piece of chicken seems dragged in for no good reason. This probably worked better on the stage, but Eugene O'Neill it's not. You forget it as soon as it's over. Friedkin and Letts also collaborated on another adaptation of a Letts' play, Bug, but based on this I'm not in such a rush to see that.
Verdict: Has its moments, but not every play needs to be immortalized on film. **1/2.