Killer Joe: Matthew McConaughey Will Kill You Now

At one point in Killer Joe, based on Tracy Letts’ play, a hideously funny tabloid noir set on the outskirts of Dallas County, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) is let into the family double-wide by a relation whose face has just been pummeled into a Rorschach blot of dried gore. He doesn’t stop to ask what happened—such is the milieu of casual violence in which the film takes place, where it’s easy to slip imperceptibly into perdition. Into some bad men for money, Chris enlists his father, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), in a plan: Kill Momma and collect on the life insurance policy she has made over to teenage daughter Dottie (Juno Temple, a peroxided sprite who’s more than a little touched). They enlist the services of “Killer Joe” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a West Dallas detective who moonlights as a hired killer. The Smiths don’t have money for a down payment, but they have something more precious: Dottie is a virgin. No longer content to gigolo along on his looks, McConaughey again shows new depths in an auteur’s film: “His eyes hurt,” says Dottie of Joe, and indeed they do, while the click of Joe’s Zippo sounds like an unsheathed dagger. Director William Friedkin has always been an envelope-pusher, most famously with The Exorcist, and Killer Joe contains one particular scene that is as difficult as any I’ve seen. It is not, however, egregious—in fact, it synthesizes Joe’s double life as cop and killer, revolving around the horrible discord that occurs when interrogation-room psychological warfare is unleashed in a domestic setting.