(On Cable TV, December 2013) Matthew McConaughey’s recent career renewal has been a beautiful thing to watch ever since The Lincoln Lawyer and it reaches an apogee of sorts here within this pitch-black Texan crime thriller. Though sometimes billed as a comedy, Killer Joe is more lurid than funny, as it features a deeply dysfunctional family plotting to kill for purely monetary gains. Complications more than ensue when an implacable hit-man (McConaughey, deliciously evil) is brought in to execute the plan, and when the money goes missing. Twisted, sordid, at times asphyxiating, Killer Joe is not pure entertainment as much as it’s watching a train-wreck in motion. Sometimes in very slow motion, as the theatrical roots of Tracy Letts’ script show up most visibly in a series of lengthy dialogue-heavy scenes. (You may hear about the fried-chicken scene and you may think you’re ready to see it as just one more thing in your jaded filmgoer’s experience, but you’re not.) While Killer Joe ends a bit too early to earn a satisfying pay-off, there’s no denying the skill with which veteran director William Friedkin puts together the film, or the talent of the actors having fun with their slummy characters. Emile Hirsch is particularly credible as a dim-witted wannabe hustler who gets outplayed by everyone, while Gina Gershon gets the least-glamorous role as the fried-chicken-gobbler. (And now I feel dirty for having written this, and I haven’t even mentioned the twisted sex-slavery plot device.) Unpleasant yet fascinating, crafty and exploitative at once, Killer Joe may best be considered as showing how far McConaughey has gone from his beach-bum rom-com persona… and how good he is at playing dark.
(On TV, November 1999) A triumphant revision of noir thrillers, with the assorted background of mafia, greed, smouldering sexual tension and pervasive gritty atmosphere. This is the Wachowski Brothers’ first feature (their second would be The Matrix) and it already shows the mixture of mesmerizing direction, borrowed influences and comic-book plotting that made their follow-up features so successful. This is a film that isn’t really complex, but looks so damn polished that it’s impossible to avoid being favorably impressed. Cool scenes, cooler visuals, focused script and femmes fatales (Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon! Woo-hoo!)… I don’t need much more to recommend this one.