Chris (Hirsch) is in big trouble with a local gangster (Macaulay), and to raise some cash he proposes to his father Ansel (Church) that they kill his mother, Ansel's ex, for the insurance money. The problem is that Ansel's vampish new wife Sharla (Gershon) wants her cut. And the policy is in the name of Chris' innocent little sister Dottie (Temple). When they hire Joe (McConaughey), a detective who moonlights as a hitman, they're unable to pay up front. So he asks for Dottie as a retainer.
Writer Letts adapted this from her play without making it very cinematic. The timeline is a bit suspect (Chris' bruises suggest it takes place on one long day, but that's not possible), and the action is largely limited to the living room of Ansel and Sharla's trailer. This makes everything feel contrived, written to make some obscure theatrical point rather than make use of film's ability to get us thinking in layers of meaning.
On the other hand, what happens is bold and outrageous. Friedkin directs scenes with a vicious snap of energy, sparking vivid performances from a terrific cast. None of the family members are remotely likeable as they wallow in their trailer-trash subculture, oblivious to what's actually going on outside their own self-absorbed orbits. And into this swaggers the slimy-slick Joe, who confidently thinks he can maintain the upper hand over these idiots.
All of this gives the film a creepy misogynistic tone, as both Gershon and Temple appear fully naked and are manipulated by the men. Sure, both Sharla and Dottie have moments of raw power, and McConaughey also has a nude scene (which is timid by comparison). But it's the men who infuse the film with dark, slightly desperate energy. In the end it's perhaps difficult to see the point all of the violence and degradation, beyond an obvious exploration of who's really in control, as fate would have it.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 29th June 2012
Box Office USA: $0.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $3.7M
Distributed by: Independent Pictures
Production compaines: ANA Media, Voltage pictures, Picture Perfect (I), Worldview Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 123 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: Nicolas Chartier, Scott Einbinder
Screenwriter: Tracy Letts
Starring: Matthew McConaughey as Killer Joe Cooper, Emile Hirsch as Chris Smith, Thomas Haden Church as Ansel, Gina Gershon as Sharla, Juno Temple as Dottie Smith, Marc Macaulay as Digger Soames, Gralen Bryant Banks as Pizza Patron, Carol Sutton as Saleslady, Danny Epper as G-Man, Jeff Galpin as Biker Thug, Scott A. Martin as Pizza Manager, Gregory C. Bachaud as Filpatrick, Charley Vance as Preacher