Killer Joe

2012 is the year of Matthew McConaughey. He used to be a punchline, and maybe he still deserves some of that for his participation in the mediocre yet excessively profitable Magic Mike, but after his performances in Bernie and Killer Joe, I’m really interested to see what he’s got in store for us in the upcoming Mud.

McConaughey is Killer Joe. He’s a homicide detective who also moonlights as a hitman. For the right price, he’ll off somebody and then fail to catch the killer. Chris (Emile Hirsch) has desired to hire him to kill his unpleasant and abusive mother Adele. Chris owes money to the wrong people, and his mother has a life insurance policy that will more than cover his debt and Joe’s fee. But the beneficiary of the policy is his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple), who lives with Adele’s ex-husband Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and his new wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), so he’s got to bring Ansel in on it. But he’d rather have a few thousand dollars than a still-living ex-wife, so it doesn’t take much to convince him.

The snag, though, is that Killer Joe doesn’t work for free, and he doesn’t work on spec. They’ll have more than enough to pay him after the job is done and they collect the insurance, but his fee is several times the amount Chris owes in the first place, so they’re in no position to pay Joe in advance. But after meeting Dottie, an excessively sweet, open, and dim-witted girl, he agrees to take the job if he can have her as collateral until the money comes in.

Killer Joe is one of the best movies so far this year, surpassed only by Beasts of the Southern Wild and maybe The Cabin in the Woods. It’s also unfortunately rated NC-17 for lots of violence and nudity, so it’s not playing in as many theaters as it deserves, but it’s well worth it if you get the chance. It’s got great characters and dialogue, but it’s the acting that really seals it. Juno Temple is an absolutely perfect Dottie, with a very layered character that reminds me a lot of Summer Glau in Firefly, and I don’t think anyone could’ve done a strong, silent type with common sense and loose morals better than Thomas Haden Church as Ansel.

McConaughey also gives a great performance, but the character of Killer Joe is so rich and interesting that it probably could have stood up well even under a weaker performance. The film’s ending is one of the single most memorable scenes in recent memory, but it’s really the cherry on top of a great role built throughout the earlier parts of the film.