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Michael Berkowitz Headshot

'Killer Joe' -- Wicked Fun

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It is a dark and stormy night. Rain pelts the pitch black trailer park. A leashed pit bull barks as the stranger approaches. He beats on the trailer door. The woman who opens the door is naked... full frontal. It's his step-mother.

So begins Killer Joe the smart, funny, well-written, exactly executed, over the top turn on Film Noir directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection) and written by Tracy Letts. Letts last Southern Gothic piece of family mayhem, August: Osage County, won five Tony Awards, including Best Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Contrasting with the messy unfolding action, Letts precisely piles the story's requisite elements -- anti-heroes, dark plot turns, crime, threatened and realized violence, characters caught up in a world they neither completely understand nor control. All is done with a sure hand and tongue firmly in cheek. Not since Lucky Number Slevin has modern noir flashed such self-satisfied chops.

The five central characters to varying degrees plot a murder for the insurance money. Thomas Haden Church works magic as the dim witted ex-husband. Gina Gershon, as Church's new wife, is slutted for success. The mishaps of the loser son Emile Hirsch keep the plot moving. Juno Temple opens eyes as the sleep walking, ethereal, sainted virgin daughter of Church.

To execute their crime, they enlist Dallas Police Department detective Matthew McConaughey, -- the snarling, lean, mean, moon-lighting, assassin for hire... Killer Joe. But this is not your father's Matthew McConaughey, the pretty boy hero of sit-coms like The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Failure to Launch, nor even the action hero McConaughey of Sahara and U-571.

This Matthew McConaughey renaissance as the Dark Knight of Neo-Noir seems to have begun with his both sides of the law, sympathetic turn in The Lincoln Lawyer. After that pivot, he was certainly less likeable as the self-promoting District Attorney Danny Buck pursuing Jack Black in "Bernie" and raunchy porn impresario Dallas who mismanages Channing Tatum's Magic Mike.

McConaughey may have realized his apotheosis with his homicide for hire, full derriere flashing, chicken drumstick wielding performance as Killer Joe. His beady-eyed, bird of prey features take flight in a schizophrenia that dominates the Jukes Trailer Trash ensemble of Church, Hirsch, Gershon and Temple.

Sadly, after the ensuing mayhem, we won't be able to look forward with guilty pleasure to a Killer Joe sequel. Still, we will relish the release next year of the movie version of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County featuring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Abagail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Sam Shepard.